We all love Chanukah; the latkes, donuts, presents and of course the simple yet profound message of the flickering lights on the Menorah, but how sure are we that if the circumstances were to be repeated today that we wouldn’t side with the Greeks?
The original Hellenists, those Jews who sided with the Greeks and fought against the Maccabees, weren’t left-wing self-hating Jews. They hadn’t given up on their identity as Jews and jumped head first into the Greek Hellenistic lifestyle, they still revered Halacha and practised their Judaism. But, in the words of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, ‘they had assumed a flexible scale of values, and their attitude was, “this is the path I follow and in which I am comfortable, but it has its limits.”’ They were living with the times and were being sensible and pragmatic; in essence they were not much different from the majority of middle of the road Jews in the 21stcentury.
The Maccabees on the other hand, were the right-wing zealous frummies; they refused to bend at all to society and situational sensibilities. They picked a fight with the ruling class and set themselves at odds with their fellow co-religionists. Instead of seeking a compromise they squared up to the Greeks and were forced to then fight a war that according to all metrics they should have lost. Without the direct intervention of G-d’s miracles, the Maccabees were doomed to total extinction. There would have been no need for the oil to miraculously last eight days as there would have been no Jews to light the Menorah at all.
Apply those metrics now and ask yourself which side of the divide you would be on?
Chanukah is a pleasant holiday filled with many delights and not many religious duties, but in essence it is a religious-zealous holiday. And that is why it has survived and is beloved by all. For the direct result of that war, simply put, was the survival of Judaism. Had the Maccabees not fought, had they not stood up for their essential beliefs, then it is logical to assume that we would have gone the way of the other religions of that era and local. We would have assimilated to the point where we would have lost our unique identity and we would have simply disappeared into the pages of history as a relic of the past.
At our core we are all zealots, for we all treasure the pure essence of the Jew that is found inside of us. We are not the so-called ‘sensible Jews’, who are simply retaining the habits of our ancestors, which will by nature be eradicated as time, convenience, modern inventions and reality get in the way. Our Judaism is not a fashion statement that will have its time and then be replaced. It is the essence of who we are, it is our exclusivity, and when push comes to shove it is something that we are willing to give our lives up for.
If you think I am incorrect then just open our history books to any era in our 3,000 year journey.
The question we need to ask ourselves now is, at what point do I stand up? What custom is worth fighting over? What aspect of my Judaism is the one that will awaken within me the essence of my Judaism?
To paraphrase: first they came for the Shtreimels, but I did not speak up for I didn’t wear one. Then they came for the Sheitels, but I did not speak up for I didn’t wear one. Then they came for the Jewish schools, but I didn’t speak up for my children were being given a broad education. Then they came for Shechita, but I didn’t speak up for I was ok with ‘Kosher style’. Then they came for me, the sensible and compliant Jew, but there was no one left to speak up.