As every Jew will tell you, in the traditional Jewish calendar Hanukkah is not big deal. It reached its present status because it happens to fall at the same time as Christmas. Jewish parents, therefore, turned it into a gift-giving holiday so that their children didn’t feel completely left out from the happy, generous, celebratory Christmas season.
The fact that it’s not a big religious holiday, though, doesn’t mean that Hanukkah doesn’t commemorate an extremely important event, one that has enduring meaning to all freedom seeking individuals. For those who don’t know it, the story of Hanukkah is as follows:
Since time immemorial, nations have fought over that small patch of land we now call Israel. Considering that nature was less than generous in endowing Israel with fresh water or arable land, there must indeed be something special about the Holy Land, some transcendent aura, that has made it such a tantalizing prize to so many nations and people.
In 168 B.C.E., Greek soldiers located in modern-day Syria seized the great Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and defiled it by dedicating it to Zeus. Jews were appalled and offended, but still passively accepted this insult, for fear of incurring even greater wrath from the Greeks. Human nature, though, is human nature, and you cannot appease a tyrant. Heartened by Jewish passivity, the very next year, Antiochus, the Syrian-Greek emperor, mandated that any Jews who observed Jewish rituals would be put to death. Just to make sure he was completely clear, he also ordered that all Jews must affirmatively worship the Greek gods.
The Jews realized that it was one thing to be barred from a building, and another thing to be barred from their faith entirely. The smoldering tinder of Jewish resistance was lit when Greek soldiers in the village of Modiin gathered Jews together, and tried to force the Jews to bow to an idol and eat pork. Realizing that where the leader goes, the others will follow, a Greek officer focused his efforts on Mattathias, a High Priest. Mattathias refused to acquiesce to the Greek demands. In fear, another villager offered to violate Jewish law on Mattathias’ behalf. Mattathias, rather than being grateful, was outraged. He killed first the appeasing villager and then the Greek officer. Mattathias, his five sons, and some other villagers then came together and killed the remaining Greeks.
Outlaws now in Greek-controlled Israel, Mattathias, his sons, and their followers hid in the m0untains and began a guerrilla campaign of resistance against the Greek occupiers. The fight was a deadly one. Mattathias and several of his sons died in battle, leaving one of his sons, Judah Maccabee to carry the fight to its conclusion. As was the case with the American revolutionaries fighting their seemingly insane battle against the might of the British Empire (the most successful military in the world at that time), it seemed impossible to believe that the Maccabees (or Hasmoneans) could win — but they did, driving the Greeks from their lands and restoring the Temple to its rightful glory.
Of course, once the Maccabees first re-took the Temple in Jerusalem, it had been completely defiled by Greek religious practices, including the slaughter of swine on the altar. The Jews believed that they could purify the Temple by burning the ritual oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days and eight nights. To their dismay, however, they discovered that they had only enough oil left for one day and one night. Nevertheless, they lit the menorah and a great miracle happened there: the menorah burned for eight days and eight nights. It is this miracle that the Jews celebrate when they light the menorah every night for the eight days of Hanukkah.
The Hanukkah story is a wonderful story of faith, commitment, and bravery. It is also a reminder that tyrannies, despite their power, are fundamentally unstable. A committed band of people can come together to topple them.
We are blessed to live in a republican Democracy. Obama is not a tyrant, but he is creating an infinitely more powerful federal government that has the seeds of tyranny in it (as all too-powerful governments do). For many of us, the 2008 election was the equivalent of the Jerusalem Temple takeover. It was a fearsome thing, but we did not yet feel that our lives and beliefs were being fundamentally transformed.
This 2012 election, however, has made us realize that Obama can follow through with vigor on his Big Government initiatives. All too soon, we may be forced to bow down. Now is the time for us to fight. We won’t slay people and take to the hills, though. Instead, we’ll run for elected office, refuse to let our children’s public schools use our tax dollars to indoctrinate them, boycott anti-American Hollywood products, invest in conservative businesses and news sources, assert our beliefs without apology, and in every way we can, become a conservativism that’s resurgent.
We are the new Maccabees.