This Parsha this week is Parshas Vayaishev. It is also Shabbos Chanukah, Shabbos that we begin to celebrate the holiday of Chanukah.
The Macabees are everyone’s heroes. Strong, muscular, tough, and brave. Sports teams are named for them; pictures of valiant and strong warriors are posted to represent who the Macabees were. Indeed, a picture of someone like Popeye the sailor man, or Superman with a Jewish star, is what easily comes to mind when we picture the Macabees.
Yet, as we examine our historical sources and try to understand who these heroes really were, a different picture altogether begins to emerge. Our tradition, in prayers recited for thousands of years, describes these amazing and heroic people: “You gave strong ones (the Greeks) in the hands of weak ones; Many in the hands of a few; Impure ones in the hands of pure ones.” (Al Hanisim Prayer); … Imagine, a few boys walking out of a Rabbinical school or Yeshiva to take on the entire Greek army! Boys with little more than their bare hands fighting armies with tanks, machine guns, and heavy artillery!!! What kind of people were these Macabees?
True, the Macabees were brave warriors, in every sense of the word. But they were people who were motivated by an unyielding understanding of the importance of keeping the word of G-d as they had received it. They refused to bend, refused to compromise, and refused to change. Only with this deep feeling of importance in their heritage, with their understanding that there are principles in our tradition that are more valuable than life itself, did they manage to accomplish their historic mission. The lessons they left for those who follow their footsteps are not shallow imitations of self serving gratification.. They are true lessons of dedication of life for the hallowed principles and traditions that we have followed for thousands of years.
As we mark this special Holiday, and wish everyone a most joyful Chanukah, we hope to see more and more Jewish men and women, boys and girls, joining the ranks of today’s Macabees and following the sacred paths of our traditions in the fullest sense, without bending, without change, and without compromise. May that bring the ultimate redemption and salvation in our days and our time.