Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Happy Chanukah!

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah, where we retell an ancient historical story of religious freedom and a story of hope.

In case you've forgotten it, here's the basic 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 to celebrate it in today's world where religious fundamentalists claim that theirs is the only truth.

But the legend of Chanukah also speaks to me. 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.

Who among us hasn't needed to find that light within during dark days of the soul? We have all needed to find hope when in the words of the song, "hope was hard to find."

So, whether or not you celebrate Chanukah, why not take a moment over the next week, to light a candle of hope...for yourself, your loved ones, and for this hurting world. Take a moment to be thankful for religious freedom and for religious diversity. And be thankful for all that is good in your life. I know I am.

1 comment:

ms. kitty said...

Hi, Debra,
Your description of Hanukkah fit so well into the theme of my sermon yesterday that I adapted it for my sermon, which was on the Fourth Source: wisdom of Jewish and Christian teachings. I've posted that sermon on MsKitty's, if you care to read it. The adaptations I made were to make it more easily followed when read aloud (at least in my opinion). You are, of course, credited.