326: Small lights in the darkness recall great miracles

elcome to the holidays!
    We’ve got all kinds of riches for you here at ReadTheSpirit:

    Dr. Wayne Baker is talking with readers about spreading more holiday generosity at www.OurValues.org.
    Rabbi Harold Schulweis has a message for Jews and Christians about “Conscience,” especially timely as 2008 ends.
    There’s a Christmas story from The Spiritual Wanderer.
    We’ve even helped you with some last-minute shopping.
    And, come back tomorrow for the start of a multi-part Christmas story you’ll enjoy through the holidays.

TODAY, we’re pleased to welcome back popular memoirist Judy Gruen, author of “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement.” For Hanukkah, which began at sunset on Sunday, she has prepared this holiday gift:

Small Lights
Big Miracles

You know about Hanukkah lights — and you probably know about Hanukkah gifts, even if you’re not Jewish. But Hanukkah isn’t about presents.
    Gift-giving during Hanukkah is only a token affair in our family, a nod to a custom that began so that Jewish children wouldn’t feel slighted during the Christmas season. For me, the excitement of Hanukkah is all about the lights.
    True, Christmas lights are far grander, offering dazzling displays of holiday cheer, and I love to look at them also. They remind us that for both Christians and Jews, this is a season of hope. But I see magic in our Hanukkah flames — tiny and humble — flickering quietly in the menorahs inside our homes. They are a standing tribute to a series of miracles that happened more than 2,000 years ago.
    Some Jews like to joke that most of our holidays boil down to: “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat!” And yet, while Jewish history is replete with miracles of God saving us from attempts to kill us, they don’t all get their own holiday. That’s one reason that Hanukkah still stands apart.

    The heroes of Hanukkah are the Maccabees, a band of brothers who fought to preserve Jewish religious identity amid the oppressive, state-mandated idolatry of the Greeks who ruled Jerusalem at that time. While the Greeks didn’t force us from our land, they tried to banish our spiritual core, outlawing the vital celebrations of the Sabbath, the new moon and even ritual circumcision.
    While most people associate Greek culture with education and enlightenment, it’s revealing that of the four major exiles that comprise Jewish history, only the Greek exile is referred to in Hebrew as one of “darkness.” That’s because Greek culture and philosophy celebrated physicality above spirituality. They worshiped gods, not God.
    The Maccabees recognized that they had no choice but to fight on behalf of the Torah and its revolutionary moral clarity against one that was so debased that it even accepted infanticide as normal.
Unfortunately, most Jews chose to acquiesce to Greek demands. Jewish males famously tried to surgically reverse their circumcisions, so that they could try to “pass” for gentiles in the gymnasium.

    As the story still is told, thousands of years later, the brave Maccabee brothers took up arms against the Greeks. Over many years, they won military victories that could only be described as miraculous, given the absurd odds against them, though six of the seven brothers fell in battle. Hanukkah celebrates these astonishing military victories against the most powerful army in the world at that time, as well as the miracle most associated with Hanukkah: a tiny measure of pure oil discovered in the Temple, after the Greeks had defiled the holy site. That pure oil insistently burned for eight days, symbolizing both the power of light against darkness as well as God’s providence.

    In America today, we enjoy religious freedom that our ancestors could never have imagined. We are not forced to choose between the secular and spiritual. But this kind of freedom also carries a threat – we are free, after all, to assimilate ourselves into extinction.
    Today the calls to assimilate may sound a little different: Come on, get rich now! A little liposuction can get rid of those wrinkles and fat! Call this toll-free number for your makeover! For people who cannot conceive of an eternal spiritual life, who think the body is all there is, no price is too high to chase the elixir of youth.
    The word Hanukkah means “dedication,” but its root word, chinuch, means “education.” When we can tap into real beauty, the beauty of our moral heritage, we will naturally work to preserve it, even at the cost of our lives.
    We light our Hanukkah menorahs in a window of our homes so that our neighbors can see our small, modest candles. They aren’t flashy or fancy, but they quietly, dramatically, light up the room with their power. When I sit and watch those flickering flames, I am strengthened by the memory of my ancestors who fought for our faith — and were rewarded by miracles.

    Judy Gruen’s latest book is “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement.” Visit her web site at www.judygruen.com.

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