Hanukkah is the story of a time in Jewish history when the world was covered in darkness. When the joy of a people was snuffed out. When the dreams of a nation had been squashed. And when the hopes of all of us were suffocated under the weight of oppression.
But from the darkest moments in our history, comes our greatest light.
More than 2000 years ago, the Land of Israel was under Syrian-Greek occupation and Antiochus, the Greek ruler of the time had declared war against the Jewish people.
He wanted to destroy the individuality of the Jews, who stubbornly refused to give up their ways and traditions by outlawing all Jewish religious traditions and rites. He replaced the righteous High Priest in the Jewish Temple with a Hellenistic Jew, which was basically an assimilated Jew who had rejected his own culture to embrace the Greek one. He then enacted a series of harsh decrees against the Jewish people by making it illegal to keep the Sabbath, perform circumcisions and keep kosher dietary laws. His servants even tried to force a 90 year old man, Rabbi Eliezer, to eat pork and when he refused, was put to death.
Thousands of others were murdered when they too refused to abandon their traditions.
Antiochus’s servants went from town to town, village to village, forcing the Jewish population to worship their false idols.
There was only one area that remained a refuge, an area in the Judean hills – the same area today which the world likes to call ‘occupied palestinian territory.’
Here, the Jews refused to bow down to the false gods of Antiochus – and so they revolted, started by a man called Mattityahu and then continued by his son, Judah Maccabee.
The line had been drawn, and loyal and courageous Jews fell in behind the Maccabees, determined to keep their way of life alive.
Antiochus was enraged and sent in his generals with tens of thousands of men to wipe out Judah and his Maccabean followers and although the Maccabees were vastly outnumbered, they succeeded in defeating the army, armed by a strong spirit of faith and belief.
But despite this unbelievable military victory, this wasn’t even the miracle of Hanukkah.
The miracle occurred later when they managed to liberate the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and after clearing out all the idols, and cleaning up all the destruction and the vandalism that had occurred, they wanted to rededicate the Temple, but the golden menorah had already been stolen by the Syrians, so they built a cheap metal one instead.
With a small vial of oil that they had discovered, enough for just one day, they lit the menorah.
Except instead of flickering out in the morning light, it continued to burn for a further seven more, until more oil could be produced.
The darkness of the time has been vanquished and replaced by the simple light of a flickering flame that wouldn’t die.
So too are the Jewish people, who somehow fight against a world in which many want to snuff out their light as well, want to vanquish them from their land, want to remove them from history and somehow pretend they didn’t exist.
Just like that flickering flame, they too refuse to die, refuse to lie down, refuse to be defeated and refuse to succumb to harsh dictators who want to destroy them.
We fight back not simply to survive, but to live as Jews in our own land, carrying out our own traditions and our own ways of life, allowing our one small light to illuminate the world.
The story of Hanukkah may have taken place over 2000 years ago, but that wasn’t the end of the story.
It was only the beginning.
Because the same fight led by a bunch of crazy zealots in the Judean hills is happening today. And every time we stand up for our way of life, for our land, for our people and for our freedom, the spirit of the Maccabees lives on in all of us.