Hanukkah begins this Friday night (Dec. 19). The festival commemorates both the 164 [acronym="Before Common Era (BC)"]BCE[/acronym] rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the ruling Seleucid (Syrian Greek) Kingdom, under Antiochus IV – and the re-establishment of religious freedom for the Jewish people after a period of harsh repression. The success of the popular revolt led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers has, ever since, symbolized the Jewish people's fight for, and achievement of, its liberty and freedom as a nation against overwhelming odds. This http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday7.htm is a very good introduction to the holyday (it has audiolinks & a recipe for latkes, the traditional potato pancakes).
I would like to quote 4 excerpts from I Maccabees. They sum up what Hanukkah is and what it means.
I Maccabees 2:19-22 -
1 Maccabees 2:51-64 -
Then Matityahu [Matathias] answered and spoke with a loud voice, "Though all the nations that are under the king's dominion obey him, and fall away every one from the religion of their fathers, and give consent to his commandments, yet will I and my sons and my brethren walk in the covenant of our fathers. God forbid that we should forsake the Torah and the ordinances. We will not hearken to the king's words, to go from our religion, either on the right hand, or the left."
I Maccabees 3:18-22 -
"Remember what acts our fathers did in their time; so shall you receive great honour and an everlasting name. Was not Abraham found faithful in temptation, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness? Joseph in the time of his distress kept the commandment and was made lord of Egypt. Pinchas [Phineas] our father in being zealous and fervent obtained the covenant of an everlasting priesthood. Joshua for fulfilling the word was made a judge in Israel. Caleb for bearing witness before the congregation received the heritage of the land. David for being merciful possessed the throne of an everlasting kingdom. Elijah for being zealous and fervent for the Torah was taken up into heaven. Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, by believing were saved out of the flame. Daniel for his innocency was delivered from the mouth of lions. And thus consider you throughout all ages, that none that put their trust in Him shall be overcome. Fear not then the words of a sinful man: for his glory shall be dung and worms. Today he shall be lifted up and tomorrow he shall not be found, because he is returned into his dust, and his thought is come to nothing. Wherefore, you my sons, be valiant and show yourselves men on behalf of the Torah; for by it shall you obtain glory."
I Maccabees 15:33-34 -
Unto whom Judah answered, It is no hard matter for many to be shut up in the hands of a few; and with the God of Heaven it is all one, to deliver with a great multitude, or a small company. For the victory of battle stands not in the multitude of an host; but strength comes from Heaven. They come against us in much pride and iniquity to destroy us, and our wives and children, and to spoil us, but we fight for our lives and our Torah. The Lord Himself will overthrow them before our face, and as for you, do not be afraid of them.
We have neither taken other men's land, nor do we hold that which pertains to others, but the inheritance of our fathers, which was in the possession of our enemies, wrongfully, for a certain time. But we, having opportunity, hold the inheritance of our fathers.
"Peace, peace to him that is far off and to him that is near." [Isaiah 57:19]
Eleanor of Aquitaine: Of course he has a knife. He always has a knife. We all have knives. It's 1183 and we're barbarians. How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we're the origins of war. Not history's forces nor the times nor justice nor the lack of it nor causes nor religions nor ideas nor kinds of government nor any other thing! We are the killers; we breed war. We carry it, like syphilis, inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can't we love each other just a little? That's how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children; we could change the world. (From The Lion in Winter)