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“Hanukkah and the Drum Beat of War” is locked Hanukkah and the Drum Beat of War

12/09/2015 10:24:04 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

With the arrival of Hanukkah I am reminded of the choice our ancient sages made when they created the holiday, making it a celebration of the miracle of light rather than the triumph of war. The war-weary rabbis of old saw beyond the short-lived military victory to the larger picture—the cost of war paid by those who fight and those caught in the crossfire. They were not pacifists; rather they saw war as a last resort, justifiable only as an act of self-defense.

My approach to war is informed by our traditions, which demand that we exercise caution. The Rosh Hashanah after 9/11, I preached against going to war in Afghanistan. Before and during the conflict in Iraq I wrote and spoke against the war. Now, with the current administration’s talk of sending our troops back to Iraq, and the Republicans calling for even more aggressive military involvement in the Middle East like ground troops in Syria, I again find myself saying, “No, there has to be a better way…”

I’m neither a political scientist nor an expert on the Middle East, so I cannot speak with authority on the greater geo-political issues in play. My concerns arise out of simply being a U.S. citizen, a Jew, and a rabbi. First, I worry about the men and women fighting for us; they are so invisible! I wonder, if there was a draft and all our kids could be potentially sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, would we still be fighting on either front? I wonder, if we were seeing daily scenes from the wars on our TV screens, watching coffins come home, hearing regular accounts of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that these soldiers suffer when they return, would the wars end sooner? I wonder with great sadness how we as a nation can be advocating a continuing conflict when we cannot adequately care for returning soldiers who have already sacrificed so much.

I am not so naïve as to think that ISIL and radical Islam are not real threats; they are. The question is whether escalating the war on its many fronts is in our country’s self-interest? From a Jewish perspective we might also ask, how is it justified? In what way is it truly a defensive war?

The Hanukkah story, the story of the miracle of the oil that was only to last a day but miraculously shed light for 8 days, is the ancient sages’ answer to the question Mai Chanukah? What is Hanukkah? For the ancient sages, the transcendent, timeless, holy message of Hanukkah was the miracle of the lights, not the victory on the battlefield. Ever wary of war, the rabbis of old rejected the glorification of bloodshed in favor of the message of the miracle of the oil. And whether one believes in miracles or not, most everyone can relate to the hanukkiah (Hannukah Menorah), the symbol of that miracle. The hanukkiah is all about light and its power to illuminate the darkness in our lives, our communities, and our world.

This year as we light our Hanukkah Menorahs, let us pray for light—the light within that dispels the darkness in our lives. And light for a world darkened by war and the threat of war.

Or chadash al tzion tahir, v’nizkeh chulanu m’herah l’oroh.
May a new light shine upon Zion and may we all share in its radiance…

Thu, July 16 2020 24 Tammuz 5780