Dec 12, 2018, 3:09:31 PM Religion

Apparently, in my last post, I had written a Purim story for a Hanukkah story, and that mistake would’ve passed unnoticed had I not seen Rabbi Kirt Schneider’s “Discovering The Jewish Jesus” last Friday evening on TBN with the days topic, coinciding with the Jewish festival of the moment. It is true that in the end you’d find that every Jewish festival, just as Alan King once stated, is often summarized as “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat“. Whether it’s about major feasts as the Passover, involving the miraculous deliverance of the children of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, or of lesser feasts as Purim, as with Esther and her uncle Mordechai, as well as the life of their fellow Jews in Persia, or even communal or familial as with the story of Jews, from time immemorial that speaks to how the people and their religion and faith have survived persecutions, pogroms, serial annihilation and extermination attempts, with the FINAL SOLUTION being the most circumspectly executed (by the Nazis) till date; it is pertinent that each story be correctly ascribed to its festival, which is why I’m doing this now howbeit on the last day of the festival.

The story of Hanukkah isn’t so different, as Israel was once again under the rule of foreign invaders at the point the events leading to the birthing of the festival occurred. This time, it was at the hand of the Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who ruled over the Seleucid Empire (one of those to which Alexander’s Empire spilt into after his demise) under which Israel and Syria fell at the time. Unlike his predecessors who allowed the Jews to keep to their ways, culture and religion, this one will have none of that. He allowed an infringement on the rights of the Jews to worship, so much so that he caused that the altar in the temple at Jerusalem have pigs (forbidden of Jews to touch, eat, talk more to be used for sacrificial purposes) slaughtered and sacrificed on it to Greek gods.

I must quickly state here, before I continue, that this story, though having occurred in that interegnum between Malachi (in the old testament) and Matthew (in the new testament), you won’t find in your average bible, even though allusions to it are found in other passages of the bible. It is found in the Book of Maccabees, which didn’t make the cut by those who felt it was their right to decide which book should or shouldn’t be a part of the compilation that eventually became “The Bible”, as we know it today. However, you can find it, amongst several others like a version of the Catholic Bible and Orthodox Bibles as part of the APOCRYPHAL BOOKS, Jewish scriptures, and of course online. At the height of the persecution the king brought upon these Jews, was that of a woman, Hannah and her seven sons who were arrested for refusing to eat pork by the Seleucid soldiers, and brought before the king. After the first son refused once again to eat pork before the king, he got so mutilated, that the relief he eventually got was death. The soldiers didn’t stop there, but also went ahead to get his brothers, six of them to denounce their faith and eat pork or else go the way of their brother. These also refused to eat pork, and met their Waterloo one after the other, for their refusal to compromise. The youngest was even promised riches, and everything he desired if only he could denounce YAHWEH’s dietary laws and just eat pork, but he didn’t budge, deciding to go the way of his brothers, even before his mother (who the king lobbied to dissuade her son, but rather encouraged him not to falter in his beliefs) could finish her words of exhortation to him. He like his brothers also met death, after severe torture, following which their mother, Hannah also died (2 Maccabees 7).

Even though Antiochus’ army continued to meet with passive resistance, amongst the Jews, to have them change their way of life and religious observances, especially the dietary laws, they never encountered violent resistance until they came to the small town of Modiin, where the soldiers set up an altar and asked Mattityahu, an old priest, to offer thereupon a sacrifice to Greek gods. Mattityahu refused, and another Jew stepped up to do the bidding of the invaders, to which Mattityahu responded by killing the man with his sword. This was followed by the slaughtering of the soldiers by the sons of the old priest, and their friends, after which they fled to the hills of Judea in anticipation of retribution from Antiochus IV.

True to type, retribution came via several expeditions that were roundly defeated by the guerrilla army set up by the sons of Mattityahu led by Yehudah, the Maccabee (The Hammer) which would later be adopted as the family name, by the brothers who continued to lead the war of liberation of Israel from the hands of the Seleucid-Assyrian Empire after the demise of their father, and much later, Yehudah, until even Jerusalem was liberated. “…After this, the sons of Israel went up to the Temple and rebuilt its gates and purified the Temple from the dead bodies and from the defilement. And they sought after pure olive oil to light the lamps therewith, but could not find any, except one bowl  that was sealed with the signet ring of the High Priest from the days of Samuel the prophet and they knew that it was pure. There was in it [enough oil] to light [the lamps therewith] for one day, but the Elohim of heaven whose name dwells there put therein his blessing and they were able to light from it eight days. Therefore, the sons of Ḥashmonai made this covenant and took upon themselves a solemn vow, they and the sons of Israel, all of them, to publish amongst the sons of Israel, [to the end] that they might observe these eight days of joy and honour, as the days of the feasts written in [the book of] the Law; [even] to light in them so as to make known to those who come after them that their Elohim wrought for them salvation from heaven. In them, it is not permitted to mourn, neither to decree a fast [on those days], and anyone who has a vow to perform, let him perform it.”
– Scroll of Antiochus

And that is how it is that we come to commemorate Hanukkah, “The Festival Of Lights” today, not as a major Jewish feast, but as minor (though its importance cannot be overemphasized because of the symbolism), seeing as it was decreed by man, and not by YAHWEH through any of his servants, or prophets. This story of deliverance of Jews is a recurring one, from the Exodus to 1945, to 1967, to 1973, even to this day, such that if the Jews were to decree a feast for every single time they had to overcome an enemy seeking their annihilation or subjugation, they’d need extra days in the year to celebrate each and every one of such feasts in commemoration of all such events of redemption. It is certainly no wonder that they’ve survived and outlived civilizations and empires, not due to their power, might or super-intelligence, but because when it comes to Israel, the Divine is involved. Interestingly, this covenant YAHWEH has with His people, comes with greater responsibility (many times at great price), that many nations and peoples that envy Israel’s position may not be able to live by. I doubt any group of peoples would’ve lived through all that Israel passed through over millennia, to remain without getting wiped out. As another Hanukkah comes to an end today let us reflect once more on our relationship with YAHWEH, and what it means to have HIM avail us of HIS LIGHT, as we rededicate His Temple in us. I believe that when we understand this, it would help us reciprocate his love unconditionally, by not predicating our relationship with Him on some condition or the other, without which we may find ourselves faltering. Chag Urim Sameach!




Published by m'khail madukovich

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