Gd for Us, or We for Gd?

Some thoughts about Chanukah:

History is not something one can run away from even if one is not comfortable with it.

Jewish history is complicated to say the least. 

In the days of Hanukah, things were very complicated. Consequently, we have very different texts speaking to us about the events of that time with different voices from different perspectives.

I am wondering why the earliest (?) source known to us, Gemara in tractate Shabbat (the voice of the sages compiling the Talmud) chooses to omit the whole fighting story and talks only about the miracle of oil. “And there was sufficient oil there to light the candelabrum for only one day. A miracle occurred and they lit the candelabrum from it eight days.”

I believe we have a hint of a reason in the next verse: “The next year the Sages instituted those days and made them holidays with recitation of hallel and special thanksgiving in prayer and blessings.” “The next year” is significant here. It seems to me that people, including the Hashmonaim themselves, still were not sure if the miracle of peace and sovereignty would last, so they did not immediately establish the holiday. They wanted to make sure that they were secure in their Temple, their city, their country before publicizing the miracle and making it a mitzvah to publicize it in every house: “משום פרסומי ניסא

When we picture the sages compiling the Talmud still not sure about the very survival of the Jewish people, we may understand that the might of Israel was not on their mind. They needed to give the people a strong source of their destiny to rely on. And the only Source at that time was Gd. Gd that is there all the time regardless of the circumstances on the ground.

When we look at the text of Al Hanisim praising Gd for “battling the battles” and “taking vengeance”, I hear a slightly stronger motif of the war itself. The earliest text of this prayer piece came to us from the minor tractate “Sofrim” compiled sometime in the early eight century. While the Jews are still in a horrible position in Israel being a tiny minority, there is already (still, always?) a longing for sovereignty. Although of course it is Gd who fights the battles and lets people win, but the people themselves must do their work. The fact that Al Hanisim is said both on Hanukah and Purim, only underlines this idea for me.   

If I could wish one thing for us, this probably would be a clarity of realization that everything is in the hands and desire of Gd, but we are the ones to get the ball rolling.

May we have the strength and the faith to do it.

Hag Chanukah Sameach!


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