Hanukkah and How War Should Be Celebrated

e observing their own religions. But a century later, one of his successors, Antiochus IV, massacred the Jews, banned the practice of Judaism and desecrated the holy Temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs on the altar. The Priestly family of Matisyahu the Hasmonean, led by his courageous son, Judah Maccabee, revolted and miraculously defeated one of the world’s greatest military powers. They purified the Temple and relit its candelabra, the menorah. A further miracle occurred when the special oil necessary, of which there was only enough for a day, lasted eight. Ever since, the menorah is lit in homes and public squares as a universally regarded symbol of religious freedom. But as America continues to fight wars abroad there is an even deeper resonance with the holiday. The ancient world glorified men at arms. Heroes were those who could pulverize their enemies on the battlefield. Their names — Agamemnon, Achilles, Hannibal and Caesar — remain legend, both in myth and history. Walk through the streets of Rome and you will be electrified by the site of ancient monuments to generals and battles, from the Arch of Titus, celebrating the slaughter of the Jews in the years 66-70, to the Arch of Constantine to Trajan’s Column. The glory of war does not end there but stretches all the way to the modern world with European Kings and princes continuing to even marry in military uniform, as did Prince William in his nuptials with Kate Middleton. Great men are those who perform heroic feats of military daring and win grandeur by vanquishing their foes. The Bible, however, with its vision of men one day beating swords into ploughshares and its promise of a future of eternal peace, sees war as savagery in every case but self-defense. The men of Arthur’s roundtable may be born for adventure. But the biblical knight of faith is born for service. On Hanukkah the Jews — the people of the book, not the sword — are forced to take up arms to defend their right to worship G-d according to their conscience. They score a stunning military victory against the successor armies to the world’s greatest conqueror. And how do they celebrate? Not by erecting a single victory arch, staging a parade or slaughtering their captured foes in public, a favorite among the jeering Roman masses. Rather, they rededicate G-d’s temple and light the candles of the menorah to demonstrate the human capacity to bring light to a world made dark with violence and bigotry, a tradition carried forth till the present day in Jewish homes and public squares Jerusalem_(8141548701)everywhere. Today, Israel is falsely accused of being a militaristic state that tramples on the rights of others. But walk the length and breadth of the Jewish state and you will find holy sites and ancient ruins, memorials to dead soldiers and commemorations for victims of terror. The one thing you will never find is a single celebratory arch — either ancient or modern — commemorating a military victory. Even when, in 1967, Israel pulled off one of the most spectacular military victories of modern times, defeating three Arab nations with 10 times the soldiers hell-bent on its destruction, Israel never celebrated the victory. Hanukkah sums up the Jewish attitude toward war: You fight only when you have to, never when you want to, and whatever the result, you never rejoice but mostly cry. War is a necessary evil. Only in peace is there glory to be won. King David was Judaism’s greatest warrior. Today he is remembered, however, for the beautifRabanim005ul Psalms he sang to G-d with harp and lyre. His wish was to build G-d a Temple in Jerusalem, but the Almighty refused. He had shed blood in battle, even though it was to protect his people from slaughter. The lesson for us in modern times? We fight because we have an obligation to stop the bad guys from slaughtering the innocent. But we never revel in the fight. Rather, we pray for our brave men and women in uniform — living torches of freedom — to come home and brighten our lives with their luminous and warm hearts.     (This article on Shmuley.com is a republishing of an earlier column by Rabbi Shmuley) ]]>

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