June 19, 2024
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Lessons of Chanukah That Apply Today

Our prayers on Chanukah refer to the miracles, salvation, victories and battles that happened in the days of the Maccabees that took place at this time of year. “You delivered the wicked into the hands of the righteous… and for your people, Israel, you worked a great victory and salvation just like this very day.” Reading this, it implies that we are to view the stories of Chanukah as being relevant and instructive to that which is taking place in current time. If so, what lessons are most important for us to contemplate in the here and now?

The overall narrative of Chanukah, with its emphasis on the miracle of the oil and the symbolism of light overcoming darkness, carries a theme of hope and perseverance. The Talmud itself, (Shabbat 21b) discusses the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days, even though there was only enough oil for one day. This miraculous event is often seen as a source of hope and divine intervention, as it symbolizes the triumph of the Jewish people over oppression and the restoration of the holy Temple.

Additionally, throughout history, Jewish communities have found inspiration and hope in the celebration of Chanukah. Lighting the menorah serves as a reminder of the resilience of the Jewish people and their ability to overcome adversity. The act of kindling lights during the darkest time of the year also carries a symbolic message of bringing light into the world and dispelling darkness.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, often spoke about the symbolic significance of the Chanukah lights dispelling darkness in both a spiritual and global context. His teachings emphasized the transformative power of light, both in the physical act of lighting the menorah and in the broader spiritual and moral implications. The Rebbe saw the message of Chanukah as universal, emphasizing the idea that light can overcome darkness in all aspects of life. As a result of his teachings, the universal Chabad movement is very keen on erecting large, beautiful menorahs in various public settings so that all may partake in the celebration.

Reviewing the story of Chanukah, in its most simplistic form, one might have skipped the long arduous battle that took place and just jumped to the conclusive victory, whereby we celebrate eight days of light that burned using only one day’s bottle of oil. However, there is more to the story than just its victorious conclusion.

We celebrate the eight days of Chanukah, remembering the Maccabean victory and the rededication of the Temple in the year 164 BCE. However, the civil war among the Jews, the revolt that took place and the many battles that were fought took place over a seven year period.

According to the account recorded in the Book of the Maccabees, Eleazar, one of the Maccabean leaders, found himself in the midst of a battle against a war elephant. Knowing that the elephant was heavily armored and carried a royal rider, Eleazar sought to deliver a decisive blow to the formidable creature. He courageously went under the elephant and thrust a spear into its belly, killing the animal. However, as the elephant fell, it also crushed Eleazar, leading to his death.

Another less well known fact is that in the year 160 BCE, Judah Maccabee was defeated and died in the Battle of Elasa (near present day Ramallah.) Leadership was passed along to Judah’s younger brother, Yonatan. The Hasmonean dynasty was granted autonomy only about 20 years later in the year 142 BCE when the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus VII, recognized Jewish autonomy under Simon Maccabee (son of Matisyahu, brother of Judah Maccabee.) The period of the Hasmonean dynasty would last until the year 37 BCE when it gave way to Roman influence.

The point of these historical Chanukah anecdotes is that we need to have patience to see our goals and victories become fulfilled. Nothing happens easily. Nothing happens right away.

If we apply these lessons to today’s conflict in Israel, we realize that we are undergoing a similar ordeal that is happening in our times. We are engaged in a battle that is taking weeks and months to reach its conclusion. There may be setbacks along the way. Hostages are being held for weeks without clear relief. Soldiers are sadly making the ultimate sacrifices. Still, the story of Chanukah and our daily prayers remind us that Hashem will deliver the wicked into the hands of the righteous… and for your people, Israel, you will work a great victory and salvation just like this very day.

The Chanukah prayer, with its themes of hope, freedom, and perseverance, resonates with individuals seeking inspiration and strength during challenging times. It serves as a reminder that, just as the Maccabees overcame oppression in ancient times, there is the possibility for positive change and resolution in the face of modern conflicts.

The story of the Maccabees is one of resilience and determination. This resilience in the face of adversity can serve as a source of inspiration for us as we face challenges today. It reminds us that even when circumstances seem overwhelming, strength and perseverance can lead to positive outcomes.

As we celebrate Chanukah by lighting our menorahs, may we stay reminded that even in the darkest times, the light will eventually emerge and dispel the darkness. May Hashem help us defeat our enemies and emerge victorious once again, as it happened “in those days at this time… just like this very day.”

Am Yisrael Chai!


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist and a member of the American Psychology-Law Society. He is the coordinator of Bikur Cholim/Chesed at Congregation Torah Ohr in Boca Raton, Florida. He can be reached at [email protected].

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