Friday, December 15, 2006
Tonight is the first night of Chanukah. I will make potato latkes and we will light our menorah.
To briefly recap the story: In 167 b.c.e., a Greek leader named Antiochus attempted to institute a Greek state religion. He ordered the takeover of the temple in Jerusalem, had a statute of Zeus built on its altar, and called for ritual sacrifice there and in other Jewish temples throughout the countryside. Mattathias killed the first Jew who came forward to offer a sacrifice as well as a state official, and he and his five sons were forced to escape to the hills. Together, they organized first a small band of rebels to resist Antiochus, which grew to a 6000 person army that retook Jerusalem and the Temple. Three years from the day that Zeus was erected, the 25th of Kislav, Judas Maccabeus and his followers rededicated and purified the Temple in an 8 day celebration. Chanukah has been celebrated more or less continuously for 2,170 years.
Chanukah is the first recorded battle for religious freedom and against efforts to have a minority religion assimilated into a larger whole, reason enough for us as Americans to celebrate it. But it is in the legend that grew up in the 2nd century of the common era that I think we can find our greatest inspiration.
You probably know that legend: according to a very short passage in the Talmud, the Maccabees came into the temple and after purifying it, went to relight the eternal flame. They only had enough oil for one day. Pressing new oil from the olive trees would take another week. Miraculously the oil lasted for the entire eight days. The Rabbis who wrote the Talmud transformed the telling of the history from a heroic military battle into a story of God’s miracle and grace to the Jewish people. They moved it from a story based on the facts to a story based on the universal need for faith and hope and redemption. It is a truth story, not a true story.
And that’s where I think the stories of this season converge. They are stories of miracles – the ordinary story of the poor unwed teenage mother and her older boyfriend cast off by society that becomes the miracle of the baby to be named “Emmanuel”: God is with us…the story of the ordinary drop of oil that lasts for eight days to show us that God’s will prevails...the story that remind us that one person's actions can change the world -- that that person could be us.
Robert F. Kennedy once said, "Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, these ripples build a current taht can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." It did for the Macabbees -- it could for us.
The stories remind us that in the darkest of winters, in the physical world or in the dark parts of our souls, even the tiniest light can with faith become brighter and stronger, until the whole world is filled with that light once again – and that every human life, no matter how humble his or her beginnings, can indeed bless the entire world.
Like the Chanukah oil, I hope this blog post can last eight days. I am taking the next week off to finish my new book which is due to the publisher by the end of the year. Have a great week! I'll let you know how it went next Thursday.