Hello, it’s been a while
I withdrew from the world on a walkabout for a period of time. I am back, and feel like Woody Allen in “Sleeper” who awakens to a topsy-turvy world. In Woody’s case, medical science finds that junk food is actually healthy for people. In my case, the constitutional protections of due process and separation of powers turned on their head; a blog for another time.
Not exactly a blog to rival Woody’s “Sleeper”. Then again if I had his comedic talent I would not be wasting it on blogging. And yet with me, unlike with Woody, you get my musings for free. And, as importantly in these times, my writings are from a person who is not a known or suspected pervert or predator.
Turning from the profane is the heart of the Hanuka story, a holiday vastly underrated and mischaracterized. Hanuka is considered by most, a minor holiday inflated to ease Jewish children’s jealousies over Christian gift giving during the Christmas season. Nothing is further from the truth.
In reality, the possibility of western civilization hung in the balance while the events surrounding Hanuka played out. The spiritual language and images used in music and art; the illumination of the interior soul by artists, writers, and poets, all absent from the world without Hanuka. Shakespeare, Bach, Van Gough, Maya Angelou, to name a few, never to be. Such is the import of Hanuka.
The de-emphasis of the historical truth of Hanuka occurred around 200 years after the events of Hanuka. A Jewish uprising against the Roman Empire ended in a disastrous defeat. The Romans avenged the insurrection by obliterating Israel as a nation and driving the surviving Jews out into the diaspora.
Traumatized by the consequences of armed insurrection, the Rabbis of the diaspora downplayed the militaristic role in Hanuka’s history and emphasized God’s role. The Hanuka story transformed into an apocryphal tale where God performed miracles for the faithful.
By downplaying the armed insurrection, the reason for taking up arms was lost to the story. In actuality Hanuka was all about war -- a civil war, a cultural war, a war to preserve ethical monotheism.
During the time of Hanuka, Hellenism prevailed throughout the known world thanks to the conquests of Alexander the Great. Greek philosophy and culture focused on understanding and perfecting the physical world. Whatever could not be measured or observed was rejected. Greek gods reflected and explained observable phenomenon. The sun arced across the sky. Why? A god drove it in a chariot. The world always defined by and explained by physical objects or concrete gods.
Jews were not immune to the Hellenistic influence. Many adopted the philosophy that physical perfection and physical beauty are the true goals of human existence. Even Israel’s high priest was a Hellenist. As such, he brought Zeus into the Holy Temple and sacrificed a pig on the Temple’s alter.
The materialism of Hellenism was anathema to traditional Judaism with its emphasis on materialism over spirituality, and belief in many gods rather than the one true universal God. Tension between the Hellenists and traditionalists was palpable, and combustion inevitable. War sparked when a soldier of the ruling Assyrian empire attempted to force conversion onto a charismatic local priest named Mattathias of the house of Maccabees. Rather than converting, he and his sons, slew the soldier and the conflagration erupted.
The Maccabees, prevailed, beating back the Assyrian military and slaying the Hellenistic infidels. The first act after victory was to purify the Holy Temple and rededicate it to God. A feast lasting eight days followed. The menorah lit on each day of the holiday. The only religion practicing ethical monotheism was saved, along with the related concepts of eternal soul; holiness; spirituality; the pure and the profane.
Ethical monotheism became the organizing principle for western culture. Judeo-Christian values under-girded the legal system. The biblical concept that all humanity is created equal, all with the spark of God within, profoundly impacted the arts and led to the democratization of society; the unshackling of slavery; and the freedom to follow whatever path one’s talents and inclinations lead.
So on Hanuka, as the lights of the Menorah burn outward to illuminate the darkness, I remember what the small band of Maccabees accomplished and turn inward. Turning to the light within that illuminates my humanity and serves as my bulwark against a soulless, material world.