Image: Eight candles, and the light that serves them. Photo by Saildancer/Pixabay.
Chanukah is a holiday with a complex history. For Jews today it’s usually celebrated as another of the “they persecuted us, we won, let’s eat” holidays, a simple story about Greek outsiders and Jewish patriots.
If you know the history, though, you know it’s more complicated than that. It was a civil war as much as a war against outsiders. The Books of Maccabees tell us that there was terrible bloodshed. At first, it was celebrated as a great military victory; a few hundred years later the triumphalist slant on the holiday was rejected for the miracle story in the Talmud. And much later, in the 20th century, the story was complicated again by the establishment of a Jewish State and the necessity of military power to defend that state.
I am left with the name of the holiday: Chanukah. It means “dedication.”
I ponder this holiday, and the present situation in U.S. politics. It seems to me that this is a time that calls for clarity in how we dedicate ourselves.
Amalek, those raiders who became the embodiment of evil in the Bible, made their first attack on the stragglers: the old, the disabled, and the sick at the rear of the caravans of Israel. So I take my cue from our scripture that one way to recognize evil is to watch for those who prey on the weak.
So I dedicate myself to quit the usual labels. I’m not going to use the old labels for “us” and “them.” I’m going to see who picks on the weak: the sick, the disabled, the poor, the disenfranchised, the “strangers” that Leviticus tells me to love.
I’m going to see who picks on the weak and I’m going to fight them.
- I’m going to fight them by writing letters (old fashioned letters!) and making phone calls to my elected officials.
- I’m going to fight them by showing up at rallies.
- I’m going to fight them by helping to spread verified information via social media.
- I’m going to fight them by giving financial support to organizations that fight them.
- I’m going to fight them in the voting booth, the next chance I get, probably some local election.
I’m going to pay close attention to local politics. That’s where everything starts, and it’s where my efforts are going to pay off the most. And again, I’m going to apply the Amalek rule to see whom I will support. If a local politician speaks up for the weak, I’m going to support them. If they prey on the weak, I’m going to fight them.
The old labels do not serve us. We have settled into our camps, and it looks to me like outsiders, people like Vladimir Putin, are profiting off our automatic enmities. So if a politician calls herself a conservative, but she looks to me like a person who fights for the underdog, I’m going to support her. If a politician calls himself a liberal, but he serves the powerful, I’m going to fight him. I am done with party names, too. I will not automatically support anyone.
For those who serve only themselves, I ask Hillel’s question: What ARE you?