“”Let everyone who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come with me!” (1Maccabees2:27)
I find Mattathias’ quote a little strange especially coming from a member of the Kohanim (ancient priests). You would expect God to be first followed by the covenant of the people. But the civil war that was raging between those who were proud of and willing to fight for their Judaism and their land verses those who felt that Greek culture was the best involved Judeans of all commitments, some religious and some we could call more secular.
What does it mean to be ‘zealous for the Law’? Which covenant? There are 613 Mitzvoth we are supposed to do. The Law that Mattathias is talking about is not the ritual law but the law that says we are to ‘defend all our people at all costs’ we are to preserve Judaism and defeat the enemy, whether it be foreign or domestic, Jew or non-Jew. The preservation of who we are is paramount. Isiah 49:8 says it well, “I will preserve you, and give you for a covenant of the people, to raise up the land. “
Later on this month we will celebrate Hanukkah. Eight days of ceremony, lighting the menorah, playing dreidels and, remembering the story of a brave band of Jews who stood up for our people and defeated he strongest army of its time.
For me though, there is another dimension to Hanukkah. It is the time of mourning. My father passed away in 20006 during the second day of Hanukkah.
I like to think that my father lived the quote of Mattathias,
My dad believed in the Jewish people and America and God. He wasn’t a synagogue going person. When it was time for Yiakor during Sukkoth, Passover and Shavuoth, and he was working, he would organize the Jewish clerks (he worked for the USPS) into a minyan so those who needed to could fulfill the obligation of remembering those who had passed away.
He saw the covenant of the people as one involving all Jews. He strove to bring Jews together and not put up artificial walls between them.
He was proud of his two heritages. He used to tell me that his parents, my Bubbe and Zeyde were true Zionists. The only thing that kept my Zeyde from going to the Land of Israel in 1911 on Aliyah, was his love for his childhood sweetheart, my Bubbie and that when he found her here in America, he married her.
My father loved America because of its Freedom! Proudly placing the menorah in the Window for all to see, he felt was an example of the freedom our people feel here in America. He never knew that placing the menorah in the window goes back 2,000 years to the Babylonian Talmud, written after we were exiled from Israel.
We are commanded to show the world that we are proud with what the Maccabees did. And we are to be Zealous for the covenant! A further aspect of our covenant with God and fellow Jews states “We are a light unto the nations.” The menorah light in our windows enlightens the world to the fact that we are as proud today as we were then to proclaim our Judaism and to defend it.
Not necessarily as the Maccabees did with swords and shields but with menorahs and windows.
So, when you put your electric menorah in the window (safety always takes precedent over practice), I have a request. Each night think of another aspect of your rededication to our people.
First night: Remember the Miracle of Hanukkah, the candle and the Maccabee war where a group of farmers, clerks and the like defeated the Armies of Antiochus.
Second night: Recall the freedoms we possess in America and how it has rescued our people.
Third night: Repeat to your family the words of Mattathias” All who are for the covenant follow me”.
Fourth night Rejoice with your family the wonderful glow of the Hanukkiah in your window and how it shines for your neighbors to see.
Fifth night: Relate to the children of the family how members of the family came to America to be free as Jews.
Sixth night: Recite the blessing over the Hanukkiah, especially the ‘Al Ha Nissim paragraph’ (Available from the office)
Seventh night: Recreate the scene of the Temple being purified so people could worship there.
Eighth Night: Recount one incident where you defended your Judaism in the face of others’ bigotry and prejudice.
Please take Hanukkah as a time to rededicate your selves to our people, our history and our love for both our peoples.
B’ahavah v’Hanukkah Sameach,