The story of Chanukah often gets lost in translation. I believe this is party because it is viewed as the Jewish holiday that appears alongside Christmas. After years of speaking about the real meaning and story of Chanukah to Jewish and Gentile friends alike, I would like to share this post.
Chanukah is above all else a celebration of freedom. Freedom to from a material culture, freedom of religion and the freedom of a higher purpose.
The REAL Chanukah Story
When the Greeks invaded Israel, they followed the social custom of their time and forced the local residents to adopt Greek culture - music, values, names and religion. They abolished the Jewish religion and culture, forbidding the study of torah, the practice of circumcision and defiling Jewish holy sites with pagan worship. Whereas Judaism had been a trailblazing religion in it's focus beyond the physical, Greek ideals focused heavily on the human form. Greek rulers erected gymnasiums, shrines to the nude physical body. They used both carrots and sticks to lure Jews away from their identity. This was not a religious, but a cultural assault.
There was a small group of rebellious Jews named the Maccabim or Maccabees. These were men of the book, scholars and holy men. Despite their small numbers and lack of military training, they took on the greatest army in the world in the world's first war fought over philosophical ideals and religious freedom. Consider - a band of holy men going to war with the world's greatest superpower. THAT is bravery. After three years of intensive battle, the few men of faith were victorious. Mattityahu (Mattathias), the leader of the Maccabim died in battle. This was not an easy war but with enginuity, drive and faith, a small band of protesters won their freedom.
The REAL Chanukah Miracle
The core miracle of Chanukah was the military victory of the faithful dreamers over their oppressors, the right of the Jews to celebrate their religion in their own land, with their own local culture. The eight days of Chanukah commemorate the reunification of the Jewish people with our greater ideals - our faith. If one were to read through the prayers of the day, they all focus on the military, spiritual victory. The miracle of the oil lasting eight days is generally considered to be the icing on top of the cake. The oil was that extra kiss from our father in heaven that lets us know if we're ready to fight against the seemingly impossible, he will make the impossible our reality. In a year defined by the protester, this message rings particularly relevant.
Chanukah is an incredible holiday, one that celebrates so many timeless ideals. Unfortunately, popular conception of this holiday focuses on the mechanics of practice rather than the values it imparts.
So please, when you celebrate this year with your friends and family, think about the bigger picture. Don't just eat the carbs and oil. Celebrate with your children a your generations of parents and grandparents celebrated with their own. Celebrate our values and meaning that are worth living for, worth fighting for. Celebrate the sublime potential we all have within us. Celebrate the power of the dreamer. Celebrate your family. Celebrate your faith. Celebrate your light.