Hanukah is a celebration of many different things: victory of the few over the many, triumph of the holy over the profane, the wearisome fight against assimilation, and of course, the miracle of the pach shemen, the jug of oil. But what Hanukah ultimately represents is hope. And hope is something we need now more than ever.
Although we live in an era with increasing hostility to our religious values, this is certainly not the first time in our history that the world has looked so bleak. In fact, when studying the history of the Jewish people during the period of Hanukah, we can find striking similarities between that time period and the present.
Contrary to what some believe, the objective of the Yevanim (Greeks) was not to exterminate us, as was the goal of so many others. Rather, the Yevanim were determined to eliminate our spirituality; and to degrade us and our Torah. They wanted to turn us into mundane beings, who focus only on the physical.
So how is that similar to what’s happening today?
While there may not be a mighty empire that seeks our spiritual downfall as in the story of Hanukah, today’s enemy is far more enigmatic and perhaps even more powerful than the mighty Greeks. What we must fight now is our obsession with modern day culture, with its emphasis on materialism, and that which is transient.
If we take a look at popular culture, we see that we live in a world which is dictated to by social media, where many are addicted to their smart phones and electronic devices. We are bombarded on all sides to integrate into the liberal popular culture. We have come to embrace the ideas, ideals, and values of today’s fast-paced Western lifestyle. However, this all serves to distance us from our Creator, His Torah, and a life of spirituality. Modern Western culture should be seen as the new Yevanim, and its proponents are showing no mercy in their ruthless war to convert us to their way of thinking.
But are we conscious of this ongoing war that our nation faces every day? Do we know that we are in a war zone which claims the lives of thousands of Jews across the globe daily? Perhaps it’s time for a reality check:
A Pew Research Center study from 2013 found that 58% of Jews who married between the years 2000 – 2013 have wed non-Jews! In the past thirty years, the rate of intermarriage has risen dramatically.
The rising rate of intermarriage shows dramatically that Jewish values and beliefs are in danger. This being the case, we must take a look at our own lives. We have to examine honestly how we are doing when it comes to Jewish values and beliefs. We need to ask ourselves if we need to increase our commitment to prayer and to Torah study.
When we realize the lost battles within our nation, as Jews assimilate in many ways, including going so far as to marry non-Jews, and the lost battles against spirituality in our own lives, we can feel a deep sense of despair and hopelessness. Our emunah is weaker than it was in the time of Hanukah, our will has been diminished, our defenses depleted, and apathy is rampant. The winter season’s gray skies and gloomy weather certainly do not help motivate us to pick ourselves up and “recharge.”
But along comes Hanukah. We are presented with the opportunity to remember and to reflect. We remember how Hashem miraculously saved us from the Yevanim, and we reflect on our own lives, and how Hashem continues to help us today. We kindle the holiday lights to lift us out of our despair, to reignite our hope, and to remind us just Who’s running the show.
Like the relief we feel upon seeing the dawn after a long, dark and lonely night, Hanukah shines its light on the darkness of our souls and on the plight of our people.
“We are the future; come join us,” Greek civilization beckoned – and many Jews did. But a small band of Jews led by the Maccabeem rose up in protest.
Their battle seemed hopeless. How could a ragtag Jewish army possibly prevail against the mighty Greeks? How could an “old-fashioned” religion compete against modernity and humanism? And yet with Hashem holding our hands, we persevered and won.
We need to be as valiant in battle as we once were. Hanukah is a time to remember that we are not alone in our fight. Current events show that our people and homeland are in danger. Just look at the atrocious Iran Nuclear Deal, the horrendous stabbing of Jews as they walk the streets of Israel, and anti-Semitism so rampant in our own backyards. Yet we remember that Gd is there throughout the darkness. We know that just as He looked after us at the time of Hanukah so long ago, He will continue to look after us now.