Transformed by the light
Posted by Ron Coleman on December 21, 2008
I wouldn’t necessarily hire Paul Greenberg as the rabbi for our shul, but he’s done a nice bit of work with this — appreciating Chanukah, and getting a pretty good grip on what it isn’t, from a perspective that should be appreciated across the Judeo-Christian spectrum:
In the glow of the candles, the heroic feats of the Maccabees have become transmuted into acts of divine intervention. The blessing over the candles recited each night of the holiday goes: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old.” Miracles, not victories.
At Passover, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is told with the same moral attached: It is He who delivered us, not we who freed ourselves. Freedom is a gift from God, not men.
Chanukah isn’t even mentioned in the Old Testament. The swashbuckling stories of battles and victories have been relegated to the Apocrypha. A mere military victory rates only a secondary place in the canon. The victory is to be celebrated not for its own sake but for what it reveals.
One more violent confrontation has been lifted out of history and entered the realm of the sacred. A messy little guerrilla war in the dim past of a forgotten empire has become something else, something that partakes of the eternal.
The central metaphor of all religious belief — light — reduces all the imperial intrigue and internecine warfare of those tumultuous times to shadowy details. And that may be the greatest miracle of Chanukah: the transformation of the oldest and darkest of human activities, war, into a feast of illumination.
Hat tip to Lux Libertas.