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There are few holidays which have a richer history than Hanukkah. This year, Jews around the world will begin to light tapers and place them in their windows. We do this so that we can proclaim the miracle of the Maccabees to the world, but the nature of that miraclethis is the rest of the story.
Initially Hanukkah was a 'make-up' holiday for a celebration which normally happens in late September called Sukkot. Due to an attempt to force Jews to Hellenize by the Greek rulers, Jews were unable to celebrate the holiday in ancient times and one of the first religious revolts broke out, led by the family known as Maccabee. This was no normal war; rather, it was a fight of the weak against the powerful. Yet as history tells us, the small forces of the Maccabees routed the Greek army. Mind you, this was an army over 10 times the size of the Jewish army. This military victory was the initial "miracle" of the holiday.
As time went on things changed, but the power of the story remained the same. With a miracle at its center it was such a strong and inspiring story, but such stories can be as dangerous as they are inspirational. Following the revolts of 70CE, 115CE and 132CE the Jewish community was left decimated. Each time the story of the Maccabees was probably invoked, and each time the same bitter defeat came to the Judeans. It began to make rabbis wonder about forcing God's hand.
The rabbis transformed the miracle of that great military victory into the miracle of the oil. And today if you hear the story of Hanukkah you will hear all the stories told together. You will hear that amidst the carnage of the war with the Greeks a single vial of holy oil survived the destruction. Then, as the story goes, that small vial of oil was only supposed to last for one day, but lasted for eight. And herein is another part of the miracle; it is the miracle of change to survive and thrive. The victory of 3,000 Judeans against 40,000 Greeks was reduced to a small vial of oil because the story needed to change for people to survive. In Judaism we read from the Torah, "Choose life that you and your descendants might live." Our celebration of Hanukkah with its lights and oil was just that -- a choice for life that Judaism might live and survive.
As you enter into your holiday season, may you be blessed with stories that add to your life and enrich your days.