So, I was thinking the other day that I haven’t done a blog post about Judaism in a while. And this seemed a bit of a shame to me. I should have at least tried to cover Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. And Simchas Torah. But I just didn’t get around to writing those articles up. But now, it’s December! And that means Hannukah! And everybody at least knows about the existence of Hannukah, and a vague idea of the story. But it’s always nice to share with those that don’t, nu?
So I started thinking about how to tell the Hannukah story on my blog. How to write it up so that the idea and feeling of hannukah comes through the words and into my reader’s heart. Which is a difficult thing to achieve, I know. But in thinking about Hannukah and the Maccabees, A strange correlation came over me. Please, indulge me and hear me out, because I am sure that you will not believe me if I tell you what I think right out, and I’m sure that I will get dismissed almost completely by the end. And so I give you a Hannukah Story: Occupy Jerusalem.
The Greeks were in power. They ruled everything that the eye could see and far beyond. They had come to Jerusalem years ago, but in peace. Alexander himself had entered the city, so fascinated was he with the Jews. We were allowed to worship our G-d and keep our Traditions and Law, so long as we also obeyed the Laws of Greece on top of it. We were not forced under Alexander to pay heed to the Pantheon, we were not completely ostracized, although we were also not necessarily welcome. But it was, for the most part, a peaceful life of coexistence. But then, Alexander died. Things remained roughly the same for us for a few years, but restrictions became tighter and our freedoms grew less.
Finally, one day, it seemed to all have happened at once, we were no longer allowed to teach our children the language of our Fathers and Mothers. We were told that they needed to be taught Greek and only Greek. We were no longer allowed free worship of our G-d, but had to hide our devotions to him. These were not the same enlightened Greeks that had been in charge of our land before, these were brutish Greeks, and the world was their toy and all would bow to them. They controlled everything that they saw, and they did so with an Iron Fist, and with money. Local lawmakers bowed to them, did their bidding, obeyed their will for fear of what retribution was possible if they did not. We were kept from our Temple, and eventually we were kept from our Homes. We were evicted from the homes that we had lived in for centuries and moved into new areas, smaller, poorer, and unable to sustain us and our families.
We looked around and saw that this was bad. It was a bad place and a bad situation, but we were not warriors. We were scholars, students, families, farmers. We worked for our living and struggled daily to ensure that there was food on the tables. We cared for our own, our children and our old, Our brothers and cousins. Yes, life was harder now, but it was always hard for us, The Chosen People. But we had made it through tougher times before, we can make it through this again. We had made it out of Egypt, after all. We just needed to bide our time and G-d would make things right.
This did not sit well with the younger men. They were anxious, angry, and caught. The Temple was being defiled, used for unholy worship of Idols of Gold. They were watching their parents waste away, and their younger siblings and for some their children as well forced into poverty. They were watching everything that they had been told to work for in life, being taken away. And they felt powerless. They had done what the Greeks had wanted, they had obeyed the Laws, they had been good subjects, and now this is how they were repaid? With their lives being wasted, and their families put into peril? And while we tried to tell them to settle down, that this is obviously how the world was meant to be for us, the young men could not let this pass.
They began to slip away from our new smaller settlement, from the protections of home and family. They were going to make a point, they said. They were going to make their voices heard. They were citizens of Greece, as well as Jews, and they had rights. Sadly, we watched them go. They were our children, our nephews, and we could not stop them. We were trying to keep the rest of our family together, to feed and teach our children, we could not stop those who wanted to make a difference, we needed to focus on the youngest and the eldest.
And so the young men went out among the hills around Jerusalem. They hid in caves and pitched their tents. They were small in number but then grew, and grew, and grew as more found out about their ideas. And they stopped being just young men. Older men joined, and women too. They were all of us together, the same as always. They fought back against the Greeks. Sadly, it was physical fighting, and not just words of war and protest. But the Greeks had given us no choice. We had tried to voice our grievances before, but to no avail. We were told that this is just the way it was, and to be happy. But who can be happy when you have no food to eat and no roof over your head, and you cannot be that which you have always been?
So the young men and women of Israel fought. And while we knew in our hearts that the war, the battles, the attacks were going to be for nothing, we watched on as our youth defended us, protected us. They battles went on, here and there throughout the hills, throughout the land. One clash here and another there, our youth recalling the days of old when we first came to this land, Jewish Warriors strong and bold. But that was a time when G-d was on our side, and this is a time, this time, we are not quite so blessed. Or so we thought.
But slowly, slowly the times changed, the tides shifted, and the Youth, the Maccabees as they had called themselves, they began to win. They gained ground, little by little by little. They moved forward, they pressed their rights, their agenda, their beliefs, and they fought for what they knew to be right. And they won. They won. Through their determination, their drive, their loyalty to one another and to their ideals, they won us back our homes. They won us back our cities, and our Temple. By working together, towards one common goal, the Maccabees proved that even the smallest people can make a big change in the world.
Yes, yes, I know. It’s not perfect. And it’s not the complete story of Hannukah either. The story of Hannukah, and why it is 8 days and nights comes later, after the Jews have returned to Jerusalem. They clean out the Temple of the idols of the Greeks, they clean and purify the temple, and they go to light the Menorah, to welcome G-d back into His home. But they did not have enough oil. They only had enough oil for one night, and that was not enough. They sent a runner to the nearest town, but that was days away, and they needed to rededicate the Temple. So, with a heavy heart that this could not be done completely properly, the Priests of the Temple rededicated the Holy Ground and relit the Menorah on the 25th day of Kislev. They knew that they would not have enough oil, and that they would need to redo the ceremony again, but it was Shabbat, and the Temple was theirs. And then, the Miracle happened. The oil, which should not have burned for even one full day, burned for eight days and nights, until the runner returned with a new supply of oil.
It’s a fanciful story, and one mostly told to children, to explain why Hannukah is eight days, and to show the Blessings of our G-d, and the miracles that He can perform. But there is a deeper message, that I’ve only just started to work out for myself. Once again, the Jewish people were in trouble, and being persecuted. And once again, it is the Jewish People who got themselves out of the mess. G-d brought down the plagues on Egypt, but only after Moses started the process of freedom. Esther saved her entire people from the wicked man Haman in Babylon, and the name of G-d is not even mentioned in her story. So while we are Children and the Chosen of G-d, most of our greatest stories, come from ourselves.
So what is another over-reaching moral? A group of determined people, no matter how small and no matter the daunting size of the task before them, a group of determined people can do anything. Now, some of you might be reading this and asking if I’m talking about Occupy Wall Street. Yes, yes I am. I am not advocating that they take up arms like the Maccabee, I do not feel that they need to. They have already made a difference. A change. The physical Occupations might be coming to an end, but the movement, the sentiment is not over.
A small but determined group of people can do anything. And even the smallest thing, the smallest changes in life, are Miracles.