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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Eight Lessons for Modern Day Israel from Chanukah

1. Force Justifies Faith - The miracle of Chanukah happened because the Macabees refused to accept the perversion of their religious and national values, and fought to resist those who would impose it on them by force. Had they not fought their way to Jerusalem, the Menorah would have remained only another decoration in a sanctuary defiled by secularism and paganism. Only once the Temple was liberated, it could serve as a vessel for a divine miracle that rewarded the sacrifices of those who fought to liberate it.

Violence is often described as contradictory to faith, but it is no more contradictory than a police officer's gun is to a civil society. Ideally there should be no violence, but in the real world, force is a necessary tool for making faith possible.

Had Moshe not struck the Egyptian taskmasters forcing him to flee for his life, had the Jews refused a second time to enter Israel under Joshua, had King David proven just as incapable of defending his land as Shaul did, right up to the time of the Macabees and to the present day State of Israel, Jewish history would have been quite different.

The union of force and faith is abused, when force is used to conquer and compel faith. The proper union of force and faith, is to use force in defense of faith to create a space in which faith can thrive.

In a dire situation miracles often don't just happen, it takes human action to initialize them. It was when the Jews walked into the sea that the sea split. It was when Jews settled wilderness roamed by bandits and administered by a hostile colonial authority, built farms and protected them, that Israel was reborn. If you want a miracle, you must first fight for it.

2. You're an Extremist When you're Losing, a National Legend when you're Winning - Had the Macabees done nothing, they would have remained nothing more than despised "extremists", rural hicks to be sneered at and ground under by the urban elites collaborating with foreign tyrants.

The Macabees stopped being "extremists" when they actually became extreme, fought back against the so-called moderates and won. Then their values emerged triumphant as well. Extremism is a measure of alienation from the values of those in power. Victory can make anyone a moderate. Had the Macabees spent all their time worrying about being called extremists, and being concerned that their actions might deepen the "national divide" and cause people to associate religious belief with violence, they would have stuck to writing petitions, and we might be celebrating Hellenika today.

3. The Few Can Triumph over the Many - VeRabim BeYad Me'atim. The many can fall into the hands of the few, if the few match dedication with strategy. The Macabees didn't win because they had superior force, but because they were willing to fight on, to outlast and outlive the tyrants and collaborators who were busy carving up their land. But this is conditional on VeTemeim Beyad Tehorim, VeReshoim BeYad Tzadikim. The defiled into the power of the pure, and the wicked in the hands of the righteous. The few can triumph when they have the purity of their commitment to carry them forward through the many setbacks, difficulties and challenges they will encounter.

Israel is stumbling now because that commitment is lacking from the top down and the bottom up, a public glutted by consumerism, a party culture and apathy can no longer produce that kind of rugged determination.

4. Victory isn't Easy or Cheap - The struggle of the Macabees doesn't look much like the coloring book version sold today. It was prolonged, difficult, and desperate. It consisted of numerous setbacks, defeats and losses. Without the big picture, victory often looked a lot like defeat. It was the forward motion of continuing to fight, that transformed it into a legacy of victory.

5. Victory isn't a Solution, Victory is a Chance to Fix the Problem - The Macabee victory was surprisingly ephemeral and it did not take long for it to dissolve into Roman tyranny. By the time Herod, the son of a Nabatean Roman governor had displaced the last of the Jewish Macabean kings and was ruling over Israel, the victory of Chanukah had turned tragically into ashes.

The failure was generational. The Macabees had won a stay of execution, but they had not changed the fault lines in the culture and in the nature of the monarchy's dynastic rule itself, that would prevent the decline and collapse of Israel. Similarly today the sons of conservative Zionist politicians have turned corrupt and Anti-Zionist, with Olmert as a prototype of the species.

The Macabees won a battle on Chanukah, but they failed to win the war for the hearts and minds of the next generation. Israel is now in the same mess as well stuck with a divided country, part of which wants to fight to defend it, and part of which does not.

Force can win battles, but when a civil war is won, the real war to change the deep faults that made it necessary begins.

6. A Single Incident can begin a War - People are naturally reluctant to fight, but one incident can crystallize how intolerable further apathy can be. Whether it was the pig on the altar or Hannah strapping on a sword to resist "droit de'signor", a point is always reached beyond which no more can be borne. It may come at an unexpected moment and in an unexpected place, not from the great atrocity but the small cruelty and ordinary injustices that reach their limits, but it usually comes and it reminds those who had taken refuge if fear, apathy and complacency that the time for such things is ended, and that only one road remains open before them, and only one bloody gate. And when it does, the real struggle begins.

7. God is not a Pacifist, Neither are his Followers - The only truly pacifist religion lives in exile with its homeland under the grim boot of Chinese Communist thugs. But religion, and any strong belief system, is not for pacifists. If you are not willing to fight for your beliefs, either your beliefs lack substance, or you do.

Pacifism is not the refuge of spirituality, but self-righteousness and irresponsibility. The responsible stand up and are counted before God, in his house of prayer and on the battlefield. To believe that there is a moral order, is to recognize that evil must be resisted so that good can thrive. He who will not pick up a gun when his town or his family is threatened, is not nobler for it, but ignoble because by refusing to resist evil, he aids it in its goals.

In the face of evil, every pacifist is a traitor. Before God, everyone who will not fight for what is right, aids what is wrong. That does not mean that force is innately righteous, or that simply putting the name of God before any conflicts puts you automatically in the right. It means that there is such a thing as Righteous Force, and that the warrior on the battlefield fighting for what is right, is as Godly as the healer or the priest or the elder, the scholar and the judge.

8. History Writes the Ending, We Do Our Part - History neatly segments events into beginnings and endings, into causes and effects, gives names to battles and wars, and decides who mattered and who didn't. And though that eye is flawed, it colors how we perceive the past as structured and ordered. But that is a false structure imposed on the chaotic turbulent events of another era. We cannot know where our own histories begin and end, we have no more of a guide to chart where we are on the great wall chart of history. We can only do our part and try to do what is right, as they did in those times long ago.


  1. I liked this post a whole lot.

  2. The "moderate right" here in Israel fall into this trap all the time: they are so worried about being called "extremists", that they fall more and more in line with the government's corruption.

  3. A brilliant article. Every word of it true. I hope it lights a fire under a lot of feet and hearts.

    If there's one thing I'll never forget is that we're made in G-d's image and He has never allowed the pure to mingle with the profane.

    (I hope my little singing Chanukah bear isn't too secular though).

  4. "In the face of evil, every pacifist is a traitor. Before God, everyone who will not fight for what is right, aids what is wrong. That does not mean that force is innately righteous, or that simply putting the name of God before any conflicts puts you automatically in the right. It means that there is such a thing as Righteous Force, and that the warrior on the battlefield fighting for what is right, is as Godly as the healer or the priest or the elder, the scholar and the judge."

    Yes. We're made in G-d's image and should resemble Him in that regard.

    IMO--Jimmy Carter is the ultimate pacifist traitor. The meek and mild former president failure who was too cowardly to do anything and now allies himself with evil, turning his cheek and hoping the rest of the world will too.

  5. Anonymous24/12/08

    Great post! Yes, we're labeled extremists for speaking up.
    Insanity rules.

  6. This could have been written about the American Revolution, circa 1776.

    With the (s)election of Barack Obama, America too is losing its edge and self-reliance.

    The "State" is turning into "G-d" for many.

    Google "40 goals" to see how many have been achieved in the U.S. so far.....not sure what can be done at this point, but waking up to the problem is step 1.

    Let's roll.

  7. I don't mean to be disrespectful, but shouldn't you have a Chanukiah on your page instead of a menorah? You'll notice that the candle holder on the page holds only 7 candles!

  8. when you consider the background against which it's standing, I think you'll realize why



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