When we study about Chanukah, we tend to focus on the miracle of the Menorah, and forget about the main purpose of the holiday, the victory of the Maccabees. But it is in this battle that we learn lessons about building a Jewish identity.
The historical context of the events surrounding Chanukah is detailed in the Book of Maccabees. The Maccabees actually represent a pragmatic center; they had Jewish opponents on the “left” and on the “right” who disagreed with them. On the left were the Hellenists who were so assimilated that they actually supported the Greek army in their efforts against Matthias and the Maccabees. On the “right” were the “Chassidim” (pious) of the time, who refused to go to battle on the Sabbath, even if it was to save lives. The real miracle of Chanukah was as follows:
“The miracle of the oil was G-d’s way of showing both the Chassidim and the Hellenists that Mattathias had in fact made the right decision. To the Chassidim, G-d was clarifying that it is permitted to desecrate Sabbath when faced with a life-threatening situation, while to the Hellenists G-d was stressing that it is fine to be open to Western culture, but in a spiritually life-threatening situation it is imperative to fight those who wish to obliterate the essence of Judaism. Extremists to the right and left have been known to be quite stubborn, so it was not definite that even G-d’s intervention would be enough to change their minds.” (Abba Engelberg- Times of Israel blog)
We are in living today in a world of great successes and of great threats. We have more opportunities for Jewish education than ever, but assimilation is still eroding away at the practices of Judaism. Today, Jews are more integrated than ever in our surroundings, yet we are at times hesitant about taking pride in being Jewish and showing our support for Israel. In a world which is complicated and filled with mixed messages, we need to return to our core values.
But we also need to bring everyone together. The parsha tells the the story of Joseph and his brothers on the road to reconciliation. We need to have the right values, but we also must open our hearts to our own brothers and sisters, no matter what differences divide us.
Perhaps we can see the lights of reconciliation in the recent tragic events which took place in a synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem. After this terrible attack, a spirit of unity prevailed. The Orthodox Jews of Har Nof sent Rabbis to the funeral and home of the Druse police officer to comfort his family and warmly opened their homes to the secular Jews who visited heir shivas. Last week, an Orthodox Jewish couple named their son Zidan in memory of the Druse soldier. The beginning of reconciliation between brothers in our parsha is the lesson and the miracle that we need to truly recognize, illuminate and share with others this year on Chanukah.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Chanukah Sameach!