FRIDAY, December 15th
Happy Chanukah! During the longest, darkest nights of the year (Chanukah always falls during the new moon close to the winter solstice), we light candles to celebrate the miracles that God worked for us at a very dark time in our history, when we were threatened not only by the political and religious oppression of the Greeks, but also by civil war between various Jewish factions and the internal pressure to assimilate into Hellenistic culture. The victory of the Maccabees represented a brief moment of light in a very long period of darkness for us. It would be only a few generations before the descendants of the Maccabees would themselves become as Hellenized as those whom their ancestors had fought, leading one to wonder why we should be celebrating the triumph of a group that would in time become as problematic as those they had fought against.
This pattern, where the triumph of the righteous only serves to pave the way for the corruption and immorality of their descendants, was already well established in the biblical period. Immediately after the reigns of David and Shlomo, their descendants begin the slide into corruption and idolatry. Although occasionally righteous kings, such as Yoshiah, would arise and rededicate the temple to the service of Hashem it was never more than a generation or two before a wicked king began worshipping idols again. Thus periods of spiritual elevation alternate with periods of corruption, idolatry, and wickedness, in a pattern that will presumably be part of human history until the coming of the Messiah.
At Chanukah we celebrate not only the fact that miracles occurred for our ancestors at that particular moment in history, but also the larger fact that even in a time of the deepest darkness we know that miraculous transformation is possible. Moreover, the fact that we choose to celebrate a victory that, however miraculous, was in many ways short-lived and imperfect, reminds us that in our own lives and in our contemporary society, even temporary and imperfect victories are important. The fact that setbacks and failures are inevitable is all the more reason to celebrate and give thanks for the triumphs we experience.
During this darkest week of the year, let us shine the light of our attention and our gratitude on all of the good that we have received from God and on all that we as a people have achieved. And as we celebrate the rededication of our temple, let us rededicate ourselves to serving God and bringing justice, kindness, and truth into this world.
Rabbi Garth Silberstein