As Chanukkah Ebbs Away
By: Dr. David Luchins
The Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, once asked “what exactly was the miracle of the Macabbee’s victory?” After all, he noted, human history is replete with examples of the weak defeating the strong (see the American revolution or the Vienam War). And why is it a miracle if the “pure” defeat the “impure” or the “pius” win over th e”wicked”? Maybe, the Rav suggested, the pure and the pious were simply better military strategists (as some would indeed suggest).
The Rav answered that the miracle was far more subtle and sublime. The Channukah story was about a Civil war between Jews. The Hellenistic Jews were happy to assimilate and adopt Greek secular values. The Syrian Greeks did not threaten our lives or, initially, our property. They were only interested in abolishing some seemingly archaic and unscientific practices (such as mutilation of the eighth day old babies, refraining from productive work one day a week, ignoring scientific evidence of the New Moon).
The miracle, the Rav declared, is that, in a welcoming materialistic Hellenist world where it was all too comfortable to assimilate, a handful of Jews cared enough to fight for their traditions.
The Rav’s brother, Rav Ahron Soloveitchik zt”l adds that there was another miracle in the Channukah story, perhaps an even greater one. He notes that it says in the Book of Macabbees that after the Macabbees won they took lulav and etrog and walked around the alter for eight days chanting “Ana HaShem Hoshia Na”. “Please G-d, Rescue Us”. From what, Rav Ahron asks, from the sin of hubris (to use a Greek word). From thinking that they were the architects of their victory. This, Rav Ahron, suggests is the greatest miracle – when we remember and give credit to the Bestower if all Blessings for all he does for us in so many ways.
And how appropriate that we will be remembering Rav Ahron and his Rebbetzin, and thanking HaShem for sharing them with us, at this year’s Ben Zakkai Reception on January 29th.