Chanukah: Then and Now
As we prepare to celebrate our seventh Chanukah in South Dakota, I’m thinking about the significance of “seven.” In Judaism, the number seven symbolizes a complete cycle; there are seven days in a week, and the Biblical Sabbatical year is observed every seventh year. Immediately after the seventh comes the eighth, which must always spur us to increased activity and vibrancy.
This just gives us all more to be thankful for as we celebrate Chanukah this year, and look to an even brighter future of increased Jewish knowledge and pride in our beautiful state.
When we look at the story of Chanukah, we realize that the main thrust of Chanukah was not about the physical persecution of the Jews, but of the banning of our faith observances.
The Greeks were puzzled by the Jews insistence that the Torah was given by G-d, and that therefore its instructions are holy and eternal. If you want to live with cultural traditions that your ancestors brought along from a desert, the Greeks reasoned, wonderful, but please don’t attribute all this holiness, spirituality and G-dliness to it.
Had the Jews simply agreed to forgo the Shabbat, Brit, Kosher, Family Purity, and modify some of the temple observances to include aspects foreign to the tradition, the Greeks would have left us alone, and everyone would have lived happily ever after.
But that would not have been Judaism.
So thankfully, the Macabbees stood up and proudly said no. Although they were initially a small minority, as even many Jews succumbed to the Hellenistic ways, this small group prevailed.
They showed that to be victorious, you don’t need many, you don’t need might. You need to be right, and eventually you will prevail and others will join you. It was a victory of right over wrong, of light over the dark. And thanks to those brave people, we have Judaism today as we did back then, and we have Chanukah to celebrate.
Just like the Maccabees of old, the best way we can ensure our children and grandchildren will be Jewish, the way our ancestors were, is for us to be educated about who we are. When we know who we are, we are also more likely to be proud of who we are.
This year, the Menorah lights will shine extra brightly across South Dakota, with increased Jewish pride and celebration, as we have provided a menorah and candles to every Jewish home in need of one around the state. This of course is in addition to the many, many homes who light the candles each night, and the beautiful public displays of menorahs in Sioux Falls, Pierre and Rapid City.
Numerous people have told me how meaningful it is for them when they see the large public menorahs on display. For Jewish people it is a symbol of our faith and tradition, for the broader community it is a universal symbol of American freedom, and an expression of the beautiful diversity and how welcome we are in our beloved city and state.
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Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz Blog
Serving the spiritual needs of the South Dakota Jewish community. Based in Sioux Falls and travels the state.