By Larry Fine
Each year as Chanukah approaches, I try to think of what aspect of Chanukah has reference to our present circumstances. Not much is needed to make comparisons. Each year we see the same situation; the Jews are struggling to balance their unique identities with that of their gentile neighbors.
Whether we are in the Land of Israel or in the Diaspora, the gentile culture is all pervasive. Sometimes it is their alien culture that surrounds us, their perverse entertainment or fashion; sometimes it is the politics and its special needs that tries to re-mold our being - either by our anti-Semitic neighbors or our dear and good gentile friends. They all tell us how we should behave as Jews (or should not behave) in order that they may benefit better.
The desire to control the Jew, to prevent him from being what he needs to be seems to permeate the desires of our surroundings. Each people, each culture seems to be a challenge to our personal or national uniqueness.
There have always been those renegade Jews who have crossed over the line, sold their souls to the enemy. Whether it was the Kapos in the death camps of Hitler or the converts to Christianity; Jews have sought to ease their burdens by giving in to the pressures of the outside world.
Chanukah, more than the other holidays, celebrates the rejection of this type of thought and pressure. Mattisyahu and his sons, as we know, rebelled against not just the Greeks, but the Hellenists. The Hellenists were the Jews who were under the spell of the glory of the Greek culture and civilization. They benefited from the Greeks at the expense of their fellow Jews.
But a point here is sometimes lost, and it is perhaps a very important point. When did Mattisyahu begin his rebellion? His rebellion did not begin after the Greeks conquered our lands. His rebellion began only after the Greeks perverted the service in the Holy Temple.
The subtle point that is made here is that while there is a necessity to persevere and suffer alien cultures and morals. We are not responsible for each lacking in their culture and philosophy. Still there is a point when the line has been crossed and we must resist.
The knowing of where that point lies requires more than just intelligence, it requires divine help. It is easy to reject all things which are foreign, but is that necessary or even good?
A Jew was put into this world with a divine task. Part of that task involves the study of the Torah and part of that task requires an involvement with the world. Since we can not feasibly shut ourselves off from the world and still be a functioning person, we must strive to maintain our Jewish equilibrium in our daily lives.
Mattisyahu was a man possessed of such wisdom to know when the line was crossed. Until idols were placed in the Temple, he did not start his rebellion. He understood our Jewish place in the world and his own place in his country.
Our Chanukah message seems clear: We must constantly monitor our lives to assure the maintenance of our Jewish being whether we refer to the individual person or the national body of Jews. Like Mattisyahu and his sons, together with their friends, they were able to withstand, and eventually drive their enemy out from the Land of Israel. We, too, together will eventually succeed in our personal and communal goals as long as those goals are those which G-d has set for us.
from the November 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine