Light Makes Might
The story of Chanukah is made up of two radically different components. One is the war, the battles of the Chashmonayim and their ultimate victory over the Syrian/Greek oppressors. “You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few…” we insert into our shemonah esrai during Chanukah.
The other component is the spiritual, miraculous event of the small pitcher that supplied oil for eight days even though it held enough only for one night.
At first glance these components — the military the spiritual — are diametrically opposed.
Indeed, there is no other holiday on the Jewish calendar that emphasizes military victory. The triumphs of Yehoshua, Shaul or Dovid HaMelech, magnificent as they were, are not commemorated. What makes the military victory on Chanukah different from all other victories?
It is not the permanence of the victory. The great pantheon of famous warriors in the distant past and the near present testify to this disappointing truth: there are only temporary victors in wars. All military victories are subject to reversal, destruction, decay and abandonment – and Chanukah’s is no different. After the Jews retook Yerushalayim and experienced the miracle of the menorah the war dragged out another five to seven years. Successive Greek emperors tried to take back Eretz Yisrael by force of arms and by orchestrating a coup among the Jews.
What makes a military victory more than a fleeting moment of glory? The spiritual truth behind it. How do we know that Chanukah was more than a military victory? The little flask of oil that miraculously burned eight days.
Only when the military victory is combined with and sublimated to spiritual accomplishment, only when Hashem is acknowledged as having fashioned the victory, only when there is symbolic religious ritual attached to the celebration of physical triumph, only then can that victory be seen as having some sense of permanence.
The memory of the victory of the Chashmonayim is glorified because of the Chanukah candles. With its spiritually uplifting message of eternal fuel and lights, Chanukah allows us to exult fully in the military victory of the Chashmonayim as well. For it is no longer just a triumph of arms and war but of the human spirit and hashgachah pratis.
How apropos, then, that our cover story this month is about four IDF soldiers who became baalei teshuva. The idea that military victory is rooted in spiritual causes is a difficult message to accept among those not raised in an environment of Emunah. Perhaps then the most miraculous aspect of our four soldiers is that they got the message. Despite their upbringing they figured out that, for a Jew, “sharing the burden” means sharing the yoke of Torah and mitzvos – and that it is not only a much more difficult yoke, but the root cause that best protects Jewish lives.
Therefore, the light that these four soldiers shine is a truly a miracle – one worth celebrating ba’zman hazeh, at this time.
Yaakov Astor, Editor-in-Chief
I have two online articles on Chanukah. You can read them by clicking the pictures below:
The menorah’s flames remind us that technology is but a gift from God.
Shoot for the stars or be more realistic? Two perspectives reflected in the Chanukah light.