Dear Rabbi Fried,
Chanukah has always been a very special time for me, since I was a young boy. It has, ever since I can remember, been a time of joy, as well as a time of pride to be a Jew. But, to tell you the truth, I’m having a very hard time getting psyched up into a joyous mood this year, with the value of my assets slashed almost in half. In addition, my Jewish pride took a hit with the recent discovery of a $50 billion Jewish swindle. And I’m petrified with the threats being made to wipe Israel off the map, with nobody taking that meshugginah seriously (which I can’t understand why not, only 60 years after the Holocaust). That’s my little story why I’m having a tough time with Chanukah; any comments would be welcome.
I would venture to say that what you are feeling is being felt by many others like you. It certainly is a challenge for many Jewish breadwinners who have recently lost their sources of livelihood, or their hard-earned assets, to be joyous. The other points you mentioned don’t help matters any.
Truth be told, what you’re feeling is what Chanukah is all about. The overall situation and feeling that had enveloped the Jewish people at the time of the Syrian-Greek exile prior to the Chanukah miracle was that of Darkness. All that mattered to the Jews — their freedom of religion, the Temple and all it stood for, their observance and Torah study, their schools — were all closed and taken away from them. The ritual of brit milah, the precious entry of a Jewish baby into klal Yisrael, was outlawed, together with many other precious mitzvot. A Jewish future was bleak, if not impossible. All that represented Light to the Jews was snuffed out, and all that remained was Darkness.
The Torah itself hints, from the very outset, at this period. The opening verses of the Torah speak of the “darkness upon the face of the earth.” The Midrash explains that verse of darkness to be hinting at the future Greek exile of the Jews, in which they would “darken the Jewish people with their decrees.”
This forced shutdown of our religion was quite successful, causing a landslide of Jewish assimilation into the Greek culture and people. For the first time in Jewish history we had an overwhelming number of Jews who referred to themselves as Greeks first and Jews second. G-d, Himself, seemed to have disappeared from the scene, and have left matters in the hands of the Greeks.
It was precisely at this time of darkness that the Maccabees came onto the scene. What separated them from the masses was hope, and their burning faith in the ability of G-d to change things overnight, if He would choose to do so. They looked at the pervading darkness as an opportunity to rekindle a light, the likes of which had never been seen before. Darkness can be seen as the absence of light, or as the backdrop upon which light can be seen that much more brightly.
That is precisely why the miracle of Chanukah was that of Light. The name Maccabee, in Hebrew, is an acronym for the verse “who is like You, G-d,” which refers to G-d revealing Himself in times when He seems to have disappeared, showing that He was always present, albeit behind the scenes. He is waiting for the challenge and the test to elevate His beloved people to new heights.
This is the lesson of Jewish history, and the way Jews have reacted throughout the millennia. We look at tough times as opportunities for growth. If G-d has frozen the credit card, let Him know we get the message by increasing or enhancing our service of Him, with increased Torah study and faith. If events have transpired which minimize our Jewish pride, let’s do things that will increase Jewish pride in the world. If nobody’s listening to a madman who wants to wipe us out, let’s let G-d know that WE hear him, and will do what we can to strengthen the Jewish people everywhere. Chanukah means consecration — let us seize the opportunity to re-consecrate ourselves as Jews and a people, to ensure a bright Jewish future!
A joyous Chanukah to all our readers and your families, and to all of klal Yisrael!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.
Dear Rabbi Fried,