This Chanukah will be the first time in 19 years that Chanukah candles will be lit in Gaza. I say that since it naturally follows – after mezuzot have been affixed to rediscovered synagogues that had been turned into other edifices, after Chabad erected a mobile tefillin stand in Gaza, after Kabbalat Shabbat resounded over loudspeakers so that the hostages would be heartened, and after someone drew the emblem of the Bnei Akiva Youth Group on a wall establishing it as the Gaza branch during “Chodesh Irgun” (a month of special activities and preparation usually held during the month leading up to Chanukah).
One can’t help but draw many parallels between the Chanukah story and the current war in Gaza. For example, both followed a period of internal political strife and religious conflict among Jews, which included sacrilegious acts performed in public. Both had heroines who brought the downfall of their enemies through food – Yehudit with her wine and cheese and Rachel from Ofakim with her cookies and coffee, which she used to distract the terrorists keeping her hostage.
The name of this war is Swords of Iron – like the swords the Maccabees fought with – even though Israel’s military technology is ultra-modern and cutting edge. The Maccabees hid in caves in Modi’in, and the citizens of today in Modi’in, and everywhere in the country, are taking refuge in bomb shelters and reinforced rooms. And, before they enter into battle, the IDF soldiers are loudly chanting prayers, as a group, just like the Maccabees did.
Israel is fighting a war on several fronts, the few against the many, and experiencing miracles. As they’ve made their way deeper into Gaza, the soldiers have marked their trail by renewing Jewish service as they go, getting rid of the impurities left behind by the bloodthirsty, inhuman monsters who have been occupying the land for almost two decades. Now Israel is reclaiming it not only by putting up Israeli flags, but by performing the mitzvot that have been absent there for so long, including hachnasot Sifrei Torah (inaugurating new Torah scrolls).
The historic battle of Chanukah was fought by one family. And Israel today fights as one family – sons and fathers, brothers and sisters, uncles and nephews. And whenever Israel is at war, we are all one family.
Today’s Maccabees sport many of the same name as their predecessors – Matti, Shimi, Yoni, Yehudah, Yochi, and Eli – all fighting for the same values and the same Land as their ancestors.
While this is of course a physical war, it has been, more than any other, a spiritual one, with more spiritual ammunition – prayers and mitzvot – adopted on a national level, across the board, on the battlefield and in the shuls.
There have been many miracles reported in the press and flooding social media. One that even involved oil. Okay, it was tuna oil. Journalist Yitzchak Horowitz wrote in BaKehilla newspaper that he had gone to Gaza and met up with a unit of soldiers. There was a prayer service and one of the officers went up to the Torah to recite HaGomel (the prayer said after surviving a dangerous situation). Afterwards, he turned to the journalist and told him, “You have no idea how many miracles we see here.
“We had conquered a certain area in a refugee camp, and at one point we sat down to eat. One of the soldiers took out a tin of tuna and wanted to smoke it. He lit a fire with the oil inside the tin. The soldiers around him started to yell, ‘What are you doing? It’s dangerous! There’s ammunition all around.’ He got frightened, took the can, and threw it as far as he could. It fell in the ruins of one of the houses and suddenly we heard explosions. We were sure we were being attacked, and so we took our guns and started shooting in the direction the explosions were coming from. A few minutes went by, and a group of terrorists came out of the building waving a white flag.”
What had happened? The flaming can of tuna had fallen into one of the tunnels under the building, where Hamas had hidden munitions, and there was a group of terrorists hiding there who had been about to go out and attack the soldiers. The munitions exploded. The terrorists didn’t know what was happening. Sure they were being attacked, they left the building and surrendered.
The drop of oil didn’t just smoke the tuna, it destroyed a cache of weapons and smoked out a group of terrorists.
In those days, in this time.