The War of Ideas and the Triumph of Light – A Modern Chanukah Message
Historically, the holiday of Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday when compared to holidays like Passover or Yom Kippur, or the Sabbath.
Nevertheless, its significance should not be under-appreciated. This holiday celebrates the first triumph for religious freedom in the ancient history of late antiquity. Although the holiday celebrates the military victory of the Maccabees back in the latter half of the second century B.C.E., rabbinic tradition redefined its significance by stressing the spiritual dimension of the revolt.
Military battles may come and go, but it is the triumph of the human spirit that matters most when it comes to the spiritual evolution of humankind. The rabbis, by and large, viewed the militaristic tendencies of the State with grave suspicion. Hence, Hanukkah had to signify something other than just military prowess.
The prophetic verse from the Bible underscores this thought — ”Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). When the forces of war and impatience demand a punishing response, it is all the more important that sober minds demand a calmer and better, thoughtful approach.
The metaphor of light is significant. One little candle can create much light. The candle’s light reminds us that our mission in life is not to shake up the world but to fasten its pegs, not to ascend to the heavens with bravado, but to walk softly on the ground, not to create a storm but rather a dwelling, an earthly home for God’s reality to become the center of our reality.
The relevance of Hanukkah is especially relevant for today’s challenges we all face.
In our battle against religious terrorism, it is important to remember that wars must be fought not only with weapons, but with ideas. Physically destroying an enemy may have negligible value, but fighting backward ideas with progressive ideas will ultimately yield a victory everyone can savor — and with much less bloodshed.
The holiday of Hanukkah is a simple reminder that the forces of light and enlightenment can eventually triumph provided we start fighting on a more conceptual and spiritual plane.
There is a lovely story about a king who had three sons. Before he was going to turn over the leadership of his empire over, he wanted to see which son was truly wise to manage his kingdom. He put this problem before them: ”Only one of you is going to be qualified to be king. There are three identical rooms on the first floor of this palace. I want each of you to fill a room so that every nook and corner is filled. You may use any commodity you like, but the room must be filled by midnight.” One son tried using straw, which he thought would pack very nicely. Another son thought sand could fill the room completely. Both sons failed to finish before the midnight hour. The third son waited until about five minutes before midnight, and he called his father to step into the room. He took out a candle and filled the entire room. His father was pleased and said ”You my son have shown yourself worthy to inherit the throne of my kingdom.”