A Chanukah Message from Philip N. Kranz

A Chanukah Message from Philip N. Kranz

Read community insights, advice and perspectives during Chanukah.

Philip N. Kranz
Philip N. Kranz

Mighty and Strong

Although Judaism is peace-intoxicated, it would be incorrect to assume that it is also pacifistic.  That reality is brought home each time we see the iconic images of twentieth century history.  There are the heart-wrenching photos of emaciated Jews staring out at us from the wooden shelves which served as their Concentration Camps beds.  Contrasted with those photos is the image of Israeli soldiers standing at the Western Wall on the day of its liberation.

Chanukah, more than any other holiday, celebrates the fighting spirit of the Jewish People.  When the Second World War ended, the congregation in which I grew up, determined to erect a memorial to those members who had fought in the war.  The War Memorial was enhanced with three magnificent stained-glass windows by the noted Polish-Jewish master, Arthur Szyk.  The three figures, Samson, Gideon, and Judah Maccabee represented strength, determination, and survival.

There is no doubt that the rabbis and scholars of our tradition get much credit for our survival.  Those who have lived a Jewish life and applied its principles to their life and work also get credit for enabling us to move creatively and dynamically into the future.  But we would not have survived had there been no one willing to defend the Jewish People from enemies without, those Jewish soldiers who died that we might live.

Chanukah is a holiday commemorating a military victory over an enemy who sought to destroy us through assimilation and acculturation.  Antiochus IV Epiphanes, King of the Seleucid Greeks, was a megalomaniac who wished to replace himself as the God of Israel and the object of our worship.  A small band of Jews, not more than a family, waged guerilla war against him for three long years.

And Mattathias said, you my sons, be valiant and show yourselves strong in the behalf of the law; for by it shall you obtain glory.  As for Judas Maccabeus, he has been mighty and strong, even from his youth up: let him be your captain and fight the battle of the people.

And Mattathias died and then his son Judas, called Maccabeus, rose in his stead.  And all his brethren helped.

So, he got his people great honor, and put on a breastplate as a giant, and girded his warlike harness about him, and he made battles, protecting the armies with his sword.  In his acts he was like a lion.  The wicked shrunk for fear of him.

Chanukkah and its military victory is an important component of Jewish history.  Let us teach our children that to be Jewish is to be strong and forthright.  In the face of anti-Semitism, let them be inspired by Mattathias and his valiant sons who defended Judaism with the might of arms and with the determination of a great soldier.

Philip N. Kranz is rabbi emeritus at Temple Sinai.

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