Drash by Professor Stephen Levine
4 December 2011 (4th day of Chanukah, 28 Kislev 5772)
Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach: Happy Chanukah to all of you.
I will begin by stating that my presence up here at this moment is the result entirely of an invitation from Doron, and not any initiative on my part.
This Shabbat, as you know – Shabbat Chanukah – occurs midway during the Chanukah holiday.
When we look at the Torah readings thus far this year, in the book of Genesis (or B’reisheet), it is striking how many of them involve situations of conflict between brothers.
Cain and Abel ...
Abraham’s sons Isaac and Ishmael ...
Isaac’s sons Jacob and Esau ...
And now, recounted over a series of Shabbat Torah readings, the dramatic story of Jacob’s sons, Joseph and his brothers.
We have, in Jewish history, a moment of contrast with these incidents, these conflicts, these situations of brotherly disunity, and it occurs, right now, in the story of Chanukah.
For the Jewish revolt – the successful Jewish revolt of the Maccabees – or the Chashmonim – involved a unified response by Judah and his brothers – Eleazar, Simon, John and Jonathan.
These five young men, these five brothers, stood together, in combat, against the Greek occupiers of the land of Israel, and their unity, their strength, and their dedication have been – and should continue to be – a source of inspiration to Jews everywhere.
What is more, their unity showed a devotion not only to their Jewish heritage, and to Jewish values, and to the cause of Jewish sovereignty and independence in the land of Israel, but also to their father, Mattityahu.
For their revolt, their action, was triggered by a deliberate and flagrant insult to their father, a kohen in the village of Modi’in.
Behind me, just above the Ark within which are this community’s Torah scrolls, is a rendering of the Ten commandments. The fifth commandment decrees, ‘Honour your father and your mother’ ...
In acting, at great risk to themselves, on behalf of their father – in defence of his life, his convictions, and his honour – they showed an instinctive, ineradicable and genuine dedication to that commandment.
And so we have, on this occasion, a unified family – a father and his sons – igniting a revolt that inspired a nation, that continues to inspire us, a revolt that restored Israel and Jerusalem to the Jewish people.
As we know, the word ‘Chanukah’ means ‘rededication’, and while the word is associated with the rededication of the Temple – which was given high priority by Judah Maccabee, upon his victory in Jerusalem and the entry of his forces to the Temple precincts – we can see, in the story of Chanukah, a narrative which can inspire us for other reasons, for at its beginnings this is a story of a group of people, a family, imbued with dedication: sons dedicated to their father, dedicated to his honour, dedicated to their heritage, their land, their country, their people, and willing to back that dedication with courage, and initiative, and perseverance.
I know that in the Chanukah blessings, which we say over eight nights as we light the candles, that we give thanks to the Almighty, in the second blessing, for the miracles performed for our ancestors at this time.
I am convinced that among those miracles was the fact that the Jewish people were led in this uprising by a family united on behalf of its traditions and values, unashamed of its laws and customs and practices, and that it was a type of miracle, too, that the Jewish people had as its political and military leader this person, Judah Maccabee, who at the moment of greatest triumph – the liberation of Jerusalem and the Temple – took the time to see if a flask of pure oil could be found so that the Temple might immediately be restored.
It is said that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Contemplating the desecrated Temple, Judah and his brothers might have been moved to anger, and then moved on. But they acted otherwise, and their search, and their actions, and their example, continue to be commemorated, and celebrated, today, more than 2000 years later, as the glow from those eight days of fire, in the restored and rededicated Temple, still inspires us and Jews everywhere.
Shabbat Shalom, and I urge you to have a happy, and proud, Chanukah.