JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review Dec. 5, 2002 / 30 Kislev, 5763

Chanukah: The right to be ourselves

By Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Chanukah celebrates an event which took place over two thousand years ago. Alexander the Great had conquered most of the known world. The land of Israel became a part of the new Greek empire. Alexander's rule was benign. He was quite happy to allow his subjects to practice whichever religion they choose. His successors were not. The religion of the Empire had to be the Greek's religion. Everyone was accepted and acceptable ...as Greeks. Judasim was to be stamped out.

There could have been no position more calculated to provoke Jewish revolt than that. So the Jews rose and defeated the Greeks and eventually liberated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which had been turned into a shrine.

All the Jewish symbols as well as the altar had been removed or spoiled. So the Jews set about restoring their holiest site to it's original purpose and appearance. The Temple's golden candelabra -- menorah -- was re-lit but only enough of the consecrated oil could be found to last one day. It burned for eight .

G-d saluted the Jew's fight with a miracle.

So in Jewish windowsills or porches you see one light burning to be joined the next night by another and another until eight flickering flames recall and strengthen an age old Jewish conviction, a people's right to be themselves.


Very often I come across young Jews who come from non-religious backgrounds, who have gone on in their own lives, to keep all the laws and traditions that the Jews of Chanukah fought for. And because of that, both family and friends feel upset and rejected.

The newly religious Jew may well want to maintain his friendships but because he's changed and no longer goes to non kosher restaurants or plays sports on the Sabbath, his old buddies sometimes end their friendships.

But it's a peculiar sort of friendship that says you will be my friend as long as you are ... just like me. If you share my views and tastes, then friends we are and friends we will stay. But if you deviate and I no longer see myself when I look at you, then you can't be my friend.

Most friendships, of course, are between people who have things in common. But there is much to be discovered in people who have different views and see the world differently, too. From pajamas which came here from India to the difference that French and Chinese cuisine has made to our diets. Different peoples and their different ways of doing things, have made positive differences to the way that we do things.

One of Judaism's holiest books tells a story of a rabbi who was riding along on horse, when he passed a very ugly looking man. The rabbi was revolted by the fellow's appearance and actually spoke his thoughts aloud, "Ugh, what an ugly fellow."

The man heard the rabbi's words and shouted after him "Take your complaint to the One who made me this way."

The rabbi was startled and the man approached him and shouted again "Go on, take your complaint to the one who made me this way, tell G-d you don't approve of His design, give Him a real telling off."

The rabbi was thoroughly ashamed. G-d has made us all different. It's through our differences that we are meant to serve Him.

Another Rabbi once said, " If I am I and you are you...then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I ......then I am no longer me and you are no longer you."

We still think that G-d salutes us when we hope to be a friend to others while being true to ourselves

So at Chanukah we say a prayer that thanks G-d Al ha nisim sh'aisiah l'avoseinu bayomim hahem baz'man hazeh: for the miracles You did in those days at this time.

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JWR contributor Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein, an international lecturer, is a commentator for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). He was cited by the U.K. paper, Independent, as being among the five most regarded people in the Britain to turn to for advice. To comment, please click here.


© Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein