Not by Might, nor by Power, but by My Spirit, says Adonai Seva’ot
These words of the prophet Zekharia, read in the haftara of Shabbat Hanuka, express the essence of the message of Hanuka.
The victory we celebrate is the survival of Jewish culture in the face of foreign cultural hegemony. Remarkably, when the Talmud tells us the meaning of Hanuka, it does not even mention, let alone glorify, the military struggle of the Maccabees. Rather, our sages singled out the miracle of the rededication of the Temple as the symbol of all that is good in Hanuka — namely, the purification of our society from foreign cultural and religious elements and the regaining of some measure of national autonomy.
Some time later, when Israel was again under foreign rule — this time by the Romans — Jews again organized to defend the Temple and all that it stands for. But this time, during the decades before the destruction of the Second Temple, our ancestors organized a creative nonviolent campaign to defend Jewish society. The historians Josephus and Philo both record how our ancestors organized strikes, boycotts, peaceful demonstrations, direct nonviolent confrontations with soldiers, diplomatic maneuvers, and sit-ins. Many of the elements of their struggle closely resemble those of Gandhian Satyagraha. The Jewish nonviolent campaign achieved its immediate goals and helped to preserve Jewish culture and society during a phase of protracted conflict without the cost of armed struggle. In doing so, Israel won the respect of many Romans, bolstering our internal strength.
Today, we too must act to defend and revitalize our culture. Like the Maccabees, we must live according to our own values and traditions without feeling self-conscious or awkward. By playing Jewish music in our homes, learning Hebrew and Jewish dance, studying Torah and supporting Israel, and by performing mitzvot, we do more than any army could to promote the well-being of our people and the success of our mission in the world.
We are fortunate that American values validate cultural diversity. To live according to our own ways is now part of the American ideal. By right as Americans we can declare our Jewishness. By living fully as Jews, we get “extra credit” for living the American Way.
When we place our Hanuka lights in our window for all to see, we make a positive statement about our values and identity. “Whoever performs a mitzva,” say our sages, “lights a candle of God and revives their spirit.”