Each night of Hanukkah, I gather around the menorah with my wife and our four children, mesmerized as its glowing flames dance and flicker around the oil-drenched wicks. As the menorah illuminates our eyes and penetrates our hearts, we sing praises for the miracles God performed for our ancestors who dared to wage war against the Greek armies who had occupied the Holy Land and banned Jewish practices and beliefs.
Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish spirit, symbolized by the radiating light that emanates from the menorah. It is this spirit, I tell my children, together with our faithfulness to God, that ignited the miracles our ancestors witnessed on Hanukkah, and that enabled the continuity of our nation, its heritage and laws, and the revival of our homeland after nearly two thousand years of exile.
But the story of Hanukkah is more about the spiritual battle waged against our people than it is about their military triumph. Unlike other tyrannical regimes that attempted to annihilate our people, the Greeks had no intention of committing genocide.
Instead, the Greeks sought to put an end to our unique way of life and beliefs by extinguishing our spirit and separating us from our God. In other words, if the Jewish people had complied and agreed to assimilate into Hellenistic culture and the worship of pagan gods, we would have been accepted by the Greeks and our nation would have been absorbed into theirs.
However, the spirit of the Jewish people refused to be vanquished, and our gazing into the menorah lights each year on Hanukkah symbolizes this undying spirit that has defined the Jewish people’s resilience throughout history and has cemented our bond with the God of Israel even in our darkest hours.
During the Greek occupation of Israel, some Jews adopted Greek culture and were complacent to the spiritual damage it caused. But a small band of brothers from a family of priests and their supporters refused to stand by as our religion was laid to waste.
The Maccabees — the name taken on by the Jewish rebel forces — sparked a rebellion against the occupying Greek forces. And after numerous small victories on the battlefield, the ragtag Jewish army accomplished the unimaginable. Routing the mighty Greek army out of Jerusalem, the Maccabees had defeated the greatest army the ancient world had ever seen.
Upon entering the Holy Temple, the Maccabees sought to reinstate its daily services. However, the Temple had been defiled by the Greeks, who placed idols in its sanctuaries, and offered incense and sacrifices to pagan gods on its altars.
The Greeks’ contamination of the Temple vessels, the wine used on the altar for libations, and the ritual oil used for lighting the Temple menorah threatened to delay the Temple services even further. But the Maccabees understood how important the Temple service was, and that each day without its performance was detrimental to the spirit and wellbeing of the Jewish people.
The miracle which became the symbol of our victory over the Greeks was the jug of purified ritual oil found under the debris in the Holy Temple. Although the jug contained enough oil for only one day, it miraculously lasted for eight, which was just enough time to prepare more oil.
I tell my children every year that the menorah symbolizes much more than military victory. The menorah in the Temple symbolized the unique spirit of the Jewish people and our eternal bond with God. And while the Greeks extinguished the physical menorah whose lights had radiated in the Temple, they were unable to extinguish the spirit of the Jewish people, which continues to shine today, and which, God has promised, will continue to shine for all eternity.
- Ami Farkas