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A Dangerous Holiday

Holidays are a calendar. They mark points in emotional and physical time. They remind of us who we are.

Many celebrate Chanukah as nothing more than celebrations of 'celebration', the rituals and rites of entertainment, a special food, a symbol whose meaning they don't remember and a little family fun.

Chanukah is not a safe holiday. It is a victory celebration in a guerrilla war. It is a reminder that the most recent war on Jerusalem was preceded long before by Antiochus's war on Jerusalem. It is a brief light in a period of great darkness.

As we light the menorah, bringing light out of that darkness, we are called on to remember to treasure the price of that light. It is brought forth through the divine matter of heavenly miracles and the earthly matter of suffering and blood.

Chanukah exists today because a small family, the remnant of a faithful priesthood, saw darkness, where many were blinded by the light of prosperity and progress, and they saw the light in the past, where their Hellenistic cousins saw only darkness.

This most dangerous of holidays does not represent a final victory, but the challenge to see the darkness around us and understand what it will take to summon even a little light.

The trivialization of Chanukah into camp and comedy, an eye roll at the lameness of tradition and the repetitiveness of games and jokes intended for children is its own kind of darkness. Those who would strip away the historical and religious meaning of Chanukah today would have been fighting against the Maccabees. The battle to preserve the meaning of Chanukah is part of the struggle to preserve the Jewish traditions and culture from the universalism of Hellenism.

The Maccabees fought for freedom of religion. They fought against the tyranny of a universalistic mass culture. But they also fought to make faith meaningful again. That is why Chanukah is more than a celebration of victory over what they fought against, as important a component of the holiday as it is, but a celebration of what they fought for, to reach Jerusalem and feel the presence of G-d.

When we light the menorah, we are meant to do more than perform rote ritual, and then on to childish games, but to feel, at least for a moment, the darkness that surrounds us, and aspire to feel G-d.

Chanukah is a dangerous holiday because it asks us to question our comfort zones. Its overt militarism and its dangerous underlying message that a time comes when you must choose between the destruction of your culture and a war you can't win, is too frightening for a comfortable age. The children of a material age are unwilling to consider the dark days in which a doomed war must be fought if the soul of the nation is to survive. It is too alien a notion for most. It was an alien one for the descendants of the pioneers who had struggled and sacrificed to return from exile, only for their descendants to eagerly embrace the gymnasiums and baths, the stadiums and idols of a new empire.

There are worse things than death and slavery, the fate that waited for the Maccabees and their allies had they failed, the fates that came anyway when the last of the Maccabees were betrayed and murdered by Caesar's Edomite minister, whose sons went on to rule over Israel as the Herodian dynasty. Nations can survive the mass murder of their bodies, but not the death of their spirit. A nation does not die, until its soul dies, and the soul of a nation is in its culture and its faith.

The mystery of history is that peoples endure through their willingness to for their people.

Tonight that first candle, that first glimmer of flame over oil, marks the night that the Maccabee forces entered Jerusalem, driving out the enemy armies and their Jewish collaborators, and reclaiming their people's culture and religion.

The light of the flame was a powerful message sent across time that even in the darkest hour, hope was not lost. And G-d would not abandon the people. Time passed the Maccabees fell, Jerusalem was occupied and ethnically cleansed over and over again, and still the menorah burned on. A covert message that still all hope was not lost. That Israel would rise again.

Israel had used signal fires and torches held up on mountain tops to pass along important news. The lighting of the menorah was a miniature signal fire, a perpetuation of the temple light, its eight-day light a reminder that even the smallest light can burn beyond expectation and light beyond belief and that those who trust in G-d and fight for the freedom to believe in Him, should never abandon hope.

That divine signal fire first lit in the deserts by freed slaves has been passed on for thousands of years. Today the menorah is on the seal of the State of Israel, the product of a modern day Chanukah. The mark of a Jerusalem liberated in a miracle of six days, not eight. Six as in the number of the original temple Menorah. And the one on the seal as well.

For those liberals who believe that Jewish identity should be limited to donating to help Haiti, agitating for illegal aliens and promoting the environment; Chanukah is a threatening holiday. They have secularized it, dressed it up with teddy bears and toys, trimmed it with the ecology and civil rights of their new faith. Occasionally a Jewish liberal learns the history of it and writes an outraged essay about nationalism and militarism, but mostly they are content to bury it in the same dark cellar that they store the rest of the history of their people and the culture that they left behind.

Holidays aren't mere parties, they are messages. Knots of time that we tie around the fingers of our lives so that we remember what our ancestors meant us to never forget. That they lived and died for a reason. The party is a celebration, but if we forget what it celebrates, then it becomes a celebration of celebration. A hollow and soulless festival of the self. The Maccabees fought because they believed they had something worth fighting for. Not for their possessions, but for their traditions, their families and their G-d. The celebration of Chanukah is not just how we remember them, but how we remember that we are called upon to keep their watch. To take up their banner and carry their sword.

History is a wheel and as it turns, we see the old continents of time rising again, events revisiting themselves as the patterns of the past become new again. Ancient battles become new wars. And old struggles have to be re-fought again until we finally get them right.

Modiin, the rural center of the old Maccabee resistance, is a revived city today, larger than it ever was. Modiin-Maccabim has some 80,000 people living there. In the ancient days, this was where the Maccabee clan rose against the Seleucid conquerors over religious freedom. Today it is a place that the European Union labels an illegal settlement. A place that Jews have no right to live even though it is within sight of the Maccabees who lived and died there. Over two thousand years after Chanukah, Jews are still not allowed to live in peace in Modiin.

The new Maccabees are farmers and teachers, men and women who build families and homes in the lands of their ancestors, who brave the threats of terrorists and international tyrants to live their lives and raise their children. Knowing that they will not be allowed to live in peace, that everything they stand for is hated by the UN, in the capitals of great empires and even by their own government, they still put flame to wick and mark the first day of many days of the miracle that revived the spirit of a nation and inspires it to this day.

Not only may Jews not live in Modiin, but they may not live in Jerusalem either. And yet they do. They persist, to the eternal frustration of empires, in this quiet resistance of building a future with their buildings, their bodies and their lives. They persist in living where so many would like them to die. And they persist in lighting the menorah when so many would rather that it be forgotten.

The Jew today is called on to forget. To turn his children into bricks in order to construct the utopia of their new world order. To bend to the progressive wheel and wear the social justice chain, and cast his own offspring into the sea of zero population growth. To give up his  nation, his land, his faith and his future to toil in the shadow of the pyramids of socialism. To go down to labor in Egypt once more, in South America and Haitian slums, in barrios and villages, in ghettos and madinas, to give up who he is in order to serve others in the new slavery of social justice.

It takes courage to resist physical oppression, but it takes even greater courage to resist cultural oppression. The terms of physical resistance are easy to understand. Force is used against force. Cultural resistance is far more difficult, and by the time the necessity for it is apparent, it can often be too late.The Maccabees had to resist not only physical oppression and armed force, but the cultural oppression of a system that regarded their monotheism, their nationalism, their traditions and rituals as barbaric. A system that much of their own fellow Jews had already accepted as right and proper.

The Maccabees rose up not only against physical oppression, Israel had and would face that over and over again, they rose up against an assault on their religious and cultural  identity.  The lighting of the Menorah is the perpetuation of that cultural resistance and when it is performed properly then it reminds us that cultural oppression, like physical oppression, is ubiquitous, and that just as the forms of cultural oppression can often go unnoticed, so too the resistance to it can go unnoticed as well.

Every year that we celebrate Chanukah, the left makes another attempt to "desecrate the temple" by destroying its meaning and replacing it with the usual grab bag of social justice issues under the union label of "Tikkun Olam". And each time we push back against their ruthless assault on Jewish history and tradition the same way that the Maccabees did, by reclaiming our sacred places, cleaning away the filth left behind by the occupiers, and lighting the Menorah to remind us of who we are.

Chanukah marks the culmination of the Maccabee campaign for the liberation of Jerusalem. It is the time when we remember the men and women who refused to submit to the perversion of their values and the theft of their land. It reminds us that we must not allow our land to be stolen under any guise or allow our religion, history and culture to be perverted on any pretext. The light of the Menorah reminds us that the sacredness of a nation is in its spirit and that preserving that spirit is an eternal struggle against the conquerors of land and the tyrants of souls.

Chanukah is a Holiday of Resistance. It commemorates the physical and spiritual resistance that is required of us sooner or later in all times. Chanukah takes us back to the armed resistance and the moral awakening that liberated Jerusalem and connected the Jewish people with their G-d once again. And that reminds us to never give up, not in the face of an assault on our bodies or on our culture. The lights go out, but they are lit again, each day, for thousands of years, reminding us to hold on to our traditions and our faith, rather than trade them in for the trendy trinkets and cheap jewelry of progressive liberalism.

To light the menorah on Chanukah is to pass on a signal fire that has been kept lit for thousands of years. From the first holiday of Passover, after which the freed slaves kindled the first Menorah, to the final holiday of Chanukah, that light burns on. The historical cycle of Jewish holidays begins with Moshe confronting Pharaoh and demanding the freedom of the Jewish people. It ends with the Maccabees standing up to the tyranny of Antiochus and fighting for the right of the Jewish people to live under their own rule on their own land.

The lights of the menorah embody the spirit of the Jewish people. A spirit that has outlived the atrocities of every tyrant. In the heart of the flame that has burned for a thousand years lives the soul of a people.


  1. Anonymous26/12/19

    Thank you, Daniel, for your scholarship,
    passion, and courage.


  2. Depressing post. Here in Shiloh, Israel I see so much more optimism. And there were Maccabi battles in the mountains just west of us, not just Modiin.

  3. Good piece. Important that you remind us about the non-PC nature of Hanukkah. No matter how many times we hear this, we can still "forget."

    Just another reminder/clarification, though:

    This war may have been for for religious freedom, but not for everyone, and certainly not for the assimilated Jews.

    This war was for Torah observance.

  4. Nothing new under the sun. There's never a shortage of traitors selling their souls for 'peace' and a piece of bread.

  5. Chaunkah Somaiach. You continue to inspire me. Keep it coming.

  6. thank you Daniel for your continued commitment to bringing truth, tradition to light. your ability to tell stories in a thought provoking way is unparalleled. I would love to have a compilation of your work

  7. Anonymous29/12/19

    Don't forget that without the courage of their sister Yael and that of Yehudit, the Maccabees wouldn't have found the courage to fight, let alone redeem Am Israel.

  8. The EU is really a "piece of work", as the saying goes ...

  9. Bravo Daniel, a master word smith, may The Lord continue to shine
    the light of wisdom upon you, Amen.

  10. Thank you, Daniel, for your scholarship,
    passion, and courage.


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