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Despite the Odds

Despite the Odds

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Nothing could be more bleak than the future the Maccabees faced. An overwhelming superpower had occupied Israel for decades before the religious persecutions began. The Syrian Greeks had superior armies, weaponry and ammunition. They had greater reserves and better techniques. Their generals and officers, triumphant in campaigns the world over, could surely have defeated the fledgling Maccabees.

Consider the internal threat

If this were not intimidating enough, consider the internal threat. A huge number of Jews had Hellenized—assimilated into the Syrian Greek culture. They rejected the laws and rituals as ancient relics, superfluous to an enlightened people. They viewed those who clung to religion as backwards, a cancer to be excised. They would do everything in their power, including fighting their own brethren, to ensure stability and the continuity of their lifestyle.

These were the odds faced by the Maccabees. Daunting, overwhelming odds. It would take a miracle to overcome these odds; there was simply no earthly plan that could deliver a Maccabean victory. Yet, the Jewish warriors rejected this script and drew on the resilience of their souls.

They faced off against the Greek army and fought an impossible war. Despite the odds, they banked on a miracle and it finally came. There was bloodshed and there was anxiety, but there was never doubt. They overcame enemies from within and without, and they triumphed.

Arriving at the Temple, they found it in shambles. A lesser people would have been discouraged by the desecration and the mammoth task of restoration. Drained by battle and depleted of spirit, all were aghast and many were overwhelmed, but Judah the Maccabee would not hear of it. The G‑d that delivered our victory, he declared, will ensure our success here, too. Let’s clean up His home.

Then came time to kindle the menorah, and we all know the story. There was no oil to be found, but this didn’t deter them. They simply refused to take no for an answer and searched till one small cruse was found. The critics and pessimists argued against kindling the light for but one night, but once again the indomitable optimism of the Maccabee prevailed. They lit the candles that one night because once kindled, a flame doesn’t die. Indeed, the next eight days became history.

The Internal Light

The miracle of Chanukah was not just that the light lasted for eight days; that is a rather small miracle for G‑d. If He could split the Reed Sea, He could refill an oil jar. The miracle is that human beings, fallible and imperfect, overcame their doubts and found a new script. They rejected the odds and charted a new future. They refused to live in darkness and found their internal light.

The miracle of the eight-day light is merely an expression of the miracle wrought by the Maccabees. G‑d wanted the world to know what the Maccabees had achieved and made it a clarion call for generations. Don’t accept the script of darkness no matter the odds. You have a light inside you that refuses to be extinguished, and that one little light can banish a great deal of darkness.

When you kindle the Chanukah lights this year, stop and think about resilience and endurance. Egypt, Canaan, Philistine, Assyria,Think about resilience and endurance Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Christendom, Islam, Nazism and Communism all failed to destroy the Jews. Pogroms, inquisitions and anti-Semitism have yet to obliterate us. The Chanukah’s single light has stood up to these powerful forces and still she burns, still she pushes back the darkness and bathes us in warmth and light.

The Chanukah light is the light of our soul and the endurance of our spirit. It is the light of G‑d in the soul of man and it cannot be erased. Assimilation and intermarriage will not overcome us. Apathy and ignorance will not undo us. This nation is here for the duration, no matter the odds. Polls and opinions might portend failure, but the Chanukah lights tell a different story. They tell us that despite the odds we will prevail.

For we have G‑d’s light within.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, and a frequent contributor to The Judaism Website—Chabad.org. He has lectured extensively on a variety of Jewish topics, and his articles have appeared in many print and online publications. For more on Rabbi Gurkow and his writings, visit InnerStream.ca.
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