parasha

Chanuka 5777

Chanuka Candles and the Information Age
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz
Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

Chanuka, which Am Yisrael has been celebrating for almost 2,200 years, is a holiday marking a historic event that occurred during the Second Temple period. Antiochus IV Epiphanes was the Greek king of the Seleucid Empire. He wanted to impose Hellenistic culture in the Land of Israel and did so by enforcing destructive decrees forbidding Jews from fulfilling commandments. The Hasmonean family, priests who inhabited the area of Modiin not far from Jerusalem, led a revolt that ultimately – and surprisingly – succeeded in overcoming the Seleucid Empire and establishing Jewish rule in the Land of Israel.

One of the highpoints of the revolt was when the Hasmoneans and their supporters succeeded in removing foreign rule from the Temple in Jerusalem, purifying the Temple by removing the idolatrous symbols the Greeks had put in it, and lighting the menorah in the Temple. In memory of this miracle, we celebrate the festival of Chanuka and light candles for eight days to publicize the miracle of lighting the menorah in the Temple.
One of Antiochus’ decrees was described by sages of the midrash as follows:
The Greeks, who darkened the eyes of Israel with their decrees, would tell them: “Write on the horn of an ox that you have no part in the God of Israel.”
(Midrash Breishit Raba 2, 4)
The message the Greeks wanted to impose on the Jews was clear. They wanted to annihilate Jewish faith and Jewish lifestyle. But the way in which they wanted to do this, by writing on the “horn of an ox”, needs to be explained.
What is “the horn of an ox” and for what is it used? At that time, the horn of an ox served as a bottle for feeding babies. The Greeks wanted to inculcate already from the baby’s birth: “We have no part in the God of Israel”. The Greeks, as well as those who opposed the Hasmoneans, understood all too well that this was a culture war, and therefore, the war focused on Jewish education beginning with young children.
Culture wars are not necessarily fought violently. Sometimes, maybe even usually, a foreign culture wants to illuminate humanity and calls on people to adopt it. Therefore, Chanuka could teach us how to deal with a multi-cultural world, one in which every person and every child is exposed to cultural messages that are occasionally very different from Jewish cultural values.
We must pay attention to this especially nowadays. We live in the “Information Age” when exposure to different cultures is almost inevitable. A person could bequeath Jewish values to his son or daughter but immediately afterwards, the children are exposed to cultures with values opposed to Jewish ones. This could be a culture which values chasing riches or social status, or one which values immediate gratification of desires, or one with rampant violence and corruption.
Every parent wants to pass on his heritage to his children; a heritage with what he or she considers to be positive values. We must find successful ways of doing this in an era when our children, and even we, are exposed to so much varied information.
It seems that succeeding in this rests in our ability to make Judaism beloved to us and to our sons and daughters. Victory in this confrontation cannot be achieved other than by reaching a person’s heart. Judaism is not weak. It has great power and can withstand this confrontation. But to do so requires profundity, insight, and mostly joyous Judaism; Judaism that a person feels completes him and contributes positively to his life.
Besides being a holiday that marks a historic event, Chanuka reminds us of the need to confront foreign cultures. Along with this, Chanuka is about family, celebrating in a cozy home. The family that gathers around the candles, playing games and uniting while feeling connected to the Jewish people and its glorious history, is facing its significant role as Jews in the Information Age.

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