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Biblical understanding about Israel
Is Chanukah the festival of religious freedom, as it’s often claimed to be? The answer is both a hesitant yes and a clear no! Of course I realise that I will gain popularity when I clearly and publicly state that the menorah announces a message of tolerance, religious freedom or even better: freedom of expression. However, this message would partly contradict the essence of Chanukah.
It is historically correct to state that the Hellenistic regime did not allow the Jews to live according to their own Jewish laws and manners. It is correct to state that a small group of Maccabees waged war against the Greek regime and simply refused to comply with the Hellenistic way of life, which revolved completely around physical well-being. It is true that during Chanukah we celebrate that the Jews regained their freedom of religion. But it is absolutely incorrect to broaden the freedom of religion that the Maccabees were able to regain, to an all-encompassing and global freedom of thought.
Freedom has limitations and boundaries, just as democracy should have boundaries. If democracy is abused to eliminate dissenters…if freedom means that respect for others is no longer in effect…if there is a view that wants to elevate man to G’d and gives him the right to decide on life and death….then it is not the same freedom that the Maccabees fought for. Freedom of religion has boundaries and that’s the very reason why it is real freedom.
When we look at the menorah, we do not only see the history of those days with relevance for today. It is not a torch that’s burning in the menorah, but there are small and vulnerable little lights. Lights, which demonstrate, in addition to the great history, the individual man with all of his emotions.
There’s a 24-year-old boy looking out of the window of a train and he loudly calls out: “Dad, look, the trees are losing, cause we are going much faster!” The father looks at his son full of visible joy and a heartfelt smile. A young couple sitting in the same section of the train are surprised at the reaction of the father. They don’t understand why the father smiles at the childish comment, but conclude that the seemingly grown up son has a serious mental disorder. A little while later the son emotionally shouts out: “Daddy, the clouds in the sky are moving as fast as our train!”
The couple no longer can restrain themselves and say to the father: “sir, your son and his health might be none of our business, but it might be wise to take him to a good doctor, preferably a psychiatrist.”
“Many thanks for your advice”, the father responds, “but my son has just returned from a long stay at the hospital and has undergone elaborate treatment. Not from a psychiatrist, but from a neurologist. In your view, my son shows abnormal and troubled behaviour. But you need to know that my son has been blind from birth. Today is the first day in his life that he can see! For me this is an indescribable miracle!”
The young couple was moved to tears. They were deeply ashamed about their false and hurtful remark.
Every human being has a little light inside of him or her. Each light is unique. Each light has its own history. We place the Menorah in the window, when it’s dark outside. We see only the light, but the oil and even the wick elude our vision. We do not know where the beautiful little light comes from, and so we cannot and should not judge it.
However at the same time, according to Jewish Law, if the light has fuel with an unsavoury odour, we are not allowed to light the menorah with it.
If the radiance of fellow men, even if he spreads light, is coming from an impure source, the menorah cannot be lit with it. But if the source is pure, even if we cannot see the wick and the oil and their history is unknown, we must be careful not to judge.
This is the lesson of the light of the menorah, also in 5777!
Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs