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Chanukah: Then And Now

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In one of the earlier and spectacular engagements, Yehuda waited for the enemy army that was bearing down on his mountain stronghold from Samaria in the north and from the coast in the West. He took his army to Mitzpe, the hilltop where Shmuel HaNavi defeated the Philistines a thousand years earlier and where he is buried. There Yehuda and his fighters fasted and prayed, and then swooped down behind one of the armies in an all night march. With the morning sun in the enemies eyes and surprised from behind, they fled, leaving behind enough supplies to arm the Jewish rebels.

One can visit the battlefields of Emaus, Bet Horon, Mitzpe, Mt Gofna, Bet Zur… These places have since seen other instances of Jewish heroism, as recent as 1948 and 1967.

And so on the twenty fifth day of Kislev, three years after Matisyahu said no, the Jewish fighters entered Yerushalayim, scattering the Greeks and their Hellenist allies. They went straight for the Menorah, unlit for three years. With only one urn of pure olive oil, they rushed to relight the seven-branched menorah. They did their part. They took on the Greek empire and won and now they attended to the daily lighting. Not enough oil for more then one day? One day at a time. God who gave them the miraculous victory will figure it out. And eight days later that oil was still burning. ”In those days in these times…”

A story is told about the freezing days and nights at Valley Forge when General Washington tried to rally his tattered troops against the mercenaries of the British Empire. One night as Washington made the rounds encouraging his men, he came across a young man lighting a small oil lamp in a dark cold corner of his tattered tent. The general stopped to offer some warm words of encouragement. When he bent down he said, “I see you brought your own heat from home. Well done!” The soldier looked up at the VIP visitor and told the general, ”No sir, I am not even allowed to have any benefit from this candle. It is holy, it is a Chanukah candle commemorating the victory of my persecuted forefathers over the vast Greek armies of oppression in the Land of Israel.” The general paused and said, “Son, you have given me the greatest encouragement possible. I am confident that we too will overcome the odds and defeat tyranny in our land”

Years later, after the war, there was a knock at the door of this Jewish veteran’s apartment. It was the now-President Washington at the door. He brought a medallion with him. On it was engraved the image of menorah and the words: “A token of gratitude for the light of your candle – George Washington”.

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