In Rabbi Dr Donniel Hartman’s article in the Jerusalem Post (Nov 22-28, p21) titled ‘The End of Hanukka’ he poses some excellent questions about the very meaning, purpose and intention of keeping, celebrating Chanukah. As the festival begins tonight and the Jewish world once more is drawn to the flame of our national survival over the millennia in the face of many attempts to terminate the Jewish hope and dream, we may marvel at our national, communal resilience, our ability to survive and live to see another day. Rabbi Hartman rightly draws out the heart’s yearning of this historic connection ‘lighting a candle is not a miracle of yesteryear but to declare a commitment to ensuring that to maintain a Jewish identity is a part of my being’. Who would deny the truth of that? Yet in the same article he assesses the current Jewish situation thus: ‘Jews today see themselves as citizens of both Athens and Jerusalem’. Over 2000 years have passed since the Hellenist dream to absorb and assimilate us was put into operation, yet have we learnt anything, nothing? What was the point of Chanukah, what was the real miracle? Are we really citizens of two kingdoms?
Rabbi Hartman is correct in asserting though that ‘the Maccabean victory was no (…) tipping point in history’. For a brief moment our light shone before internal power politics and international pressures began to dominate the national agenda again. Our Temple, so brilliantly restored with such bravery and zealous courage again fell into corruption and, as if we ever even needed reminding of this, failed also to be filled with the tangible presence of HaShem as in the past. A victory it was, but indeed no tipping point in history. Just over a century later our national decline was once more in full swing leading to the tragic events in 70CE as the heart was ripped from our nation and our ancient longing for a settled Homeland cruelly put on ice as Diaspora inevitably followed.
No, this was no tipping point. Nothing it seems had really changed at all and our national, personal inability to follow the commands of the Lord G-d were brought once more to the forefront of our consciousness. Patting ourselves on our backs to massage our damaged historical souls and spirits while claiming that identity is all, as if this was the driving force behind Chanukah is to miss the point. If we still haven’t realised that the same cultural assimilatory spirit behind Athens is still at work today in our post-modern society with its liberal values, then we still have lessons to learn. No, we cannot be sons and daughters of both Athens and Jerusalem.
So the point of Chanukah? Surely it is this: We must be citizens of one Kingdom alone. It was not the small army of dedicated soldiers who freed us from the might of the Greek armies and rededicated the Temple. It was the King behind the Kingdom. So as we light the candle tonight, let us remember that it is not ‘by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord’. Only because our G-d is faithful to the covenants He made will we, can we survive at all because He is merciful and will always bring our deliverance, our redemption to us in due season.