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Rabbi Rothman on Parashat Vayeshev

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The second Jewish Temple model in the Israel Museum (Wikimedia Commons photo)

In a few days, we will celebrate Hanukkah and the re-dedication of the Temple. This is symbolized by the miracle of the oil that was only enough to burn for one evening in the Temple’s menorah actually burning for eight full days and nights.

Yet, even though this miracle has significance, it certainly does not come close to the miracle of a group of Jewish priests, who were untrained in warfare, fighting against the Hellenists and winning.

While we centre Hanukkah around the miracle of the lights, one has to wonder why we only mention the enormous miracle of these priests winning the war against the most powerful, well-trained army in the world.

The answer should sadden us all.

The war, you see, was actually a war between Jews who had left Jewish life to become Hellenists and Jews who remained true to Jewish belief and observance.

The rabbis could not fathom celebrating one Jew fighting another, even if it was miraculous. Jews forced to fight Jews to save Judaism is no cause for celebration.

That’s why the rabbis ignored the greater miracle of the war for the less-significant miracle of the oil – to teach us that we cannot celebrate going to war against other Jews, no matter what the reason.

While we celebrate the miracles of Hanukkah, we temper our joy because it came at a dear price. Our joy is tempered by tears over the lost lives of our brothers and sisters who were led astray and joined the aggressors.

We thank God that we are not lifting weapons against each other, and yet we must ponder if we truly mourn a situation where Jews were forced to fight Jews.

There are many reasons to celebrate Hanukkah, but, as we eat our latkes, we can never forget the bittersweet aftertaste that cannot be ignored. Hanukkah gives us reason to celebrate, but it also instructs us to never ignore the pain of one Jew fighting another.

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