by: Rabbi David Sandmel
December 04, 2017
On Chanukah, we celebrate religious and national freedom. In the second century B.C.E., according to the available sources, the Maccabees led the Judeans in a revolt against the Seleucid king Antiochus, who outlawed the practice of Judaism to control his empire. He oppressed the people and desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem.
After defeating the Seleucids, who had overextended themselves in their war against Egypt, the Hasmoneans recaptured the Temple, cleansed and rededicated it (the Hebrew word chanukah means dedication.) Later sources tell the now-famous story of a small cruse of purified oil—sufficient only for one day—that miraculously lasted for eight, enough time to produce a fresh supply.
Rabbi David Sandmel leads some ADL staff in a Chanukah song of bravery and miracles.
The Indomitable Human Spirit
For at least 2000 years, Jews have commemorated this moment in our history, but it has broader, universal resonances: a small, indigenous population resisting the oppressive policies of empire, hope and bravery in the face of overwhelming odds, and commitment to the preservation of one’s faith, culture and freedom. Perhaps most importantly, it is a celebration of the indomitability of the human spirit.
Chanukah not only celebrates an event that occurred a long time ago, it also reminds us that the struggle for our freedom and ideals requires commitment, bravery, and self-sacrifice. It also requires the confidence that our cause is just and the abiding hope that even when things look dark, justice and good can triumph over injustice and evil.
In the Jewish calendar, Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, right around the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year. When we light the chanukiyah, we add a candle each night, symbolically increasing the amount of light as the days themselves begin to get longer.
The traditional story of Chanukah revolves around a divine miracle—but remember that the miracle occurred after the people came together to protect themselves and their heritage. We embody that spirit when we join with others to bring light and hope to the world, and when we stand up to those, no matter how powerful, who seek to deny freedom and dignity to others. In this way, we can all be miracles.