Embracing Our Commonality
While we clean the wax off our Chanukah menorahs and consume the last of our Chanukah gelt, the Christmas lights shine brighter every day. We may feel as though these two holidays are entirely unrelated, but in truth, they share an invaluable common element: a hope for a grander future.
On Thursday, Dec. 2, the POB Interfaith Clergy and many religious seekers gathered at Plainview Reformed Church to learn about Chanukah and Christmas.
Rabbi Steve Conn and I explained the history, observance, and relevance of Chanukah. I stressed the heroism of Matthias (Mattityahu). Antiochus IV, the Syrian Greek ruler of Judah, was fed up with the disobedience coming from Jerusalem. He felt the people’s attachment to the Torah fueled their resistance, so he decided to cut them off from their source. He seized control of our Temple and dedicated it to the service of Zeus. He also forbid the learning of Torah, the rite of circumcision, and the observance of Shabbat. To live freely, Mattityahu and his family moved out of Jerusalem to nearby Modiin.
When a Syrian/Greek garrison came there and insisted on an offering to Zeus, Mattityahu could no longer stand by idly. He vanquished the regiment, crying, “Woe, are we! How long can we stand for the insult to our God and people? Our Temple is defiled, our Torah degraded, and our people debased. Heathens annihilate our dignity and our faith. What are our lives worth if we’re unwilling to stand up for what we believe, cherish, and value?” Mattityahu then iterated Moses’s illustrious words: “Whoever is for God, come with me!”, and the Maccabee rebellion began.
Mattityahu set forth the chain of events that eventually freed us from Antiochus’ rule and gave us religious and national freedom. The miracle of the oil lasting for eight days was a Divine sign that God treasured our efforts and sacrifice.
Father Valentine Rebello and Bishop Vic Goepfert taught about Advent and Christmas. Advent honors the four Sundays before Christmas as a preparation period for the birth of Jesus and as a time of hope for his return. I remember doing a joint Advent service with Pastor Eric Olsen at Good Shepherd Church. They read the same messianic passages from Isaiah as we do in the Haftorah. I sort of felt like I was in synagogue if not for the massive cross in front of me! Christmas then celebrates the birth, the gift of someone who would bring enlightenment, atonement, and eventually harmony to the world.
Both Christianity and Judaism share a future belief in world peace and harmony. The difference is that Christians believe the Messiah will be Jesus coming once more, and Jews believe it will be a person from the current or future generation.
Traditional Judaism posits that the Messiah will return all the Jews to the land of Israel and, from there, bring enlightenment of the One God to all peoples, uniting the world through one faith. While many adhere to this Orthodox doctrine today, I see the Messiah not as one person convincing the whole world to follow one belief system but as inspired leaders who help large masses of people live better and more empowered versions of themselves. We can all think of great people who elevated humanity in steps, large and small, throughout the ages.
So as we move on from one holiday to another, let’s embrace our commonality. We may not accept that Jesus is coming back to unite the world, but just sharing the belief in a peaceful, harmonious world, especially in our time, is exciting. Let’s view those pretty lights and trees as a symbol of what both our traditions yearn for: a time when all the people of the world will feel as one.