Of Note: The Challenge- Be Today's Maccabees

Posted by Gideon Aronoff on Fri, Dec 26, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Chanukah is often viewed as a holiday of little spiritual significance in the Jewish holiday calendar– a celebration whose importance is enhanced simply by its proximity to Christmas. Yet, its story provides vitally important teachings that can embolden and inspire ordinary individuals to accomplish great deeds against unimaginable odds, and is deeply meaningful for those of us engaged in refugee and immigration work.

At Chanukah we celebrate the ultimately successful three-year struggle for religious freedom of the tiny Jewish resistance, the Maccabean rebels, against the overwhelming might of the Greco-Syrian Empire in second century BCE Israel. The First Book of Maccabees tells us, “But when they saw the army coming to meet them, they said unto Judah: 'What shall we be able, being a small company, to fight against so great and strong a multitude? ...' And Judah said: 'It is an easy thing for many to be shut up in the hands of a few, and there is no difference in the sight of Heaven to save by many or by few; for victory in battle standeth not in the multitude of a host, but strength is from Heaven… but we fight for our lives and our laws...”

This passage underscores that when we fight to serve the essential values of our tradition, it is not our numbers, but the power of our tradition itself, that will propel us to victory. Instead of cataloging all the objective reasons why we should not be able to succeed, we instead are inspired to continue our struggle in service of this higher calling.

While the role of divine intervention and purpose is clear, we cannot forget that this miracle of victory still required three years of intense fighting by the Maccabees. This was no instantaneous miracle, but the outcome of focused battle for a just end.

This Chanukah challenge – to understand our Jewish calling to be God’s partner in repairing a broken world (tikkun olam) – reinforces the work of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and our commitment to redoubling our efforts to fulfill our mission and assist refugees and immigrants in need. We have a mandate to protect Jews and other religious minority refugees in peril and to see them provided with resettlement and new lives in the United States… To assist the State of Israel in establishing a viable refugee status determination process that distinguishes refugees in need of protection from unauthorized migrants... To provide traumatized Darfuri refugees with psychological and social services so they can reestablish their lives in Chad… To advocate for real comprehensive immigration reform in the United States so that our immigration policies represent compassionate and humane treatment of newcomers, while promoting security and rule of law.

These challenges are immense. Like the Maccabean fighters questioning Judah, we could easily wonder if our numbers – our material power – are up to this task. And yet, Jewish ethical and religious teachings so clearly argue that we must “welcome the stranger,” and that we have a duty to “redeem the captive.” By looking to the example of the Maccabees, we can see our efforts as part of a spiritually driven quest to make a real difference in the lives of vulnerable migrants. This year, let us be as the Macabees and realize that we must do our part to achieve the miracles we seek and stay active for the long haul to victory.

Wishing you and your family a Happy Chanukah.

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