From Rabbi Stern

As we witness the horrific tragedies taking place in Israel, our minds gravitate toward thinking of Hanukah, and the message of heroism that emanates from it. On the one hand, we know that only power derailed the Greeks, who attempted to destroy Jewish society. After repeated acts of humiliation, the Macabbee family stood up to the Greeks, fought and defeated a mighty army with a few brave guerillas. Their victory is celebrated in the famous "Al Hanisim" prayer we recite during services in which we thank G-d for the miracle of "the few outwitting the many". It seems that in our own day the modem Israeli Macabbee's central deterrent is the use of power. Overtures of peace are viewed by Israel's enemies as signs of weakness. Suicide bombers feel ennobled to kill as many civilians as possible. One could conclude, therefore, that only an outright Israeli assault on Palestinian territories would solve the Palestinian issue.

On the other hand, we know violence only begets further violence. Every Israeli strike is answered by more suicide bombers. Perhaps even greater efforts to bring about a peace agreement are necessary in order to prove our love of peace. The prophetic section we read from the book of Zechariah on Hanukah hints that power is not the answer: "Not by might or by power" [will rule the world], but by my spirit, say the L-ord of Hosts." This theme is enshrined in another prayer that we recite each night of Hanukah known as "Hanahrot Halalu" ["These lights"] in which the lights are praised for the spiritual benefits of tranquility that they evoke.

Well, is it power or is it peace that will bring about positive results?

The answer from our tradition is BOTH. Our Rabbis teach: pursue peace until you have no alternative. But when that time arrives, fight as if your very lives depend on defeating your enemy. Indeed, this was the philosophy of the great Macabbees, whotried peaceful coexistence with the Greeks until the entire Jewish culture was threatened with annihilation.

Israel is, and has been, for a long time caught in the middle, between overtures of peace and military actions of self-defense. We pray during this season that Israel finds the right answer for this time and place and provides its citizens with an environment free of fear where every Jew in Israel and in the Diaspora will have the privilege of celebrating Hanukah in peace.


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