Oh Little Town of Modi’in

This is “where it’s at.” Modi’in is the place where Judah Maccabee and the Hasmoneans began their battle to return the temple to Jewish worship. Modi’in, a place literally located at the crossroads of history. The way to Jerusalem passed by our doorstep. On the mountain across the street, there were lookouts, always at the ready to warn the people who lived there of invasion. On this mountain there are over 150 cisterns, an entire system designed to provide water to the people who lived there. There is a Byzantine church. There are ruins from the Stone Age. And, there is the fine tradition of a people who refused to bow to their conquerors and remained strong when passive compliance was the easiest course.

Each year as I read about and think about Hanuka, I wonder what is really the message for us. Is it the victory of the few over the many? Is it the story of the miracle of the oil? What is the message that can speak to us in our day?

For me, the message is loud and clear. The easiest thing for Jews in countries of the Diaspora to do is to comply, to be like the rest of the Americans, French, Italians, British—not to “make a big fuss” about keeping kosher or observing shabbat. Yet, those who we think of as brave took the harder road. They felt that we had something very precious to preserve. And they persisted. They risked everything, even their lives, to preserve what was precious to them—to show their devotion to their God and their people.

In Israel, the easiest thing is to just give in to the international pressures that tell us that we don’t have the right to live in security. They tell us that we don’t need those humiliating roadblocks that have saved the lives of countless Israelis– Jews, Christians, and Muslims– after all, the need for Arab dignity is more important than preserving innocent lives. The easiest thing was for Sharon to give the Arabs a gift by throwing innocent people out of their homes in Gaza, homes some had built with their own hands and lived in for thirty years—dropping them off at hotels, depriving them of their livelihoods, showing the world how easy it is to destroy a Jewish community. That was easy. Standing up for one’s beliefs, commitments, and principles is what is difficult.

An article in the Jerusalem Post talks about one woman’s struggle with a school system in the US that contrary to law was teaching the children Xmas carols. The comments others made to her article were disturbing. Many of those who commented told her to just take it easy—what’s the big deal—doesn’t she have other things in her life to deal with? It is precisely those comments that point up the real message of Hanuka—that we do have something worth preserving, that we are not the same as everyone else, that we will not cede our traditions and belief because keeping them is uncomfortable or unpopular.

From the point of view of family life, it is a similar lesson. If we have values we want our children to hold dear, we must not yield or take the path of least resistance when their friends are influencing them to do something we do not believe is good or safe or moral. “Everyone else” may be wrong. We need to hold fast to what we believe in and not take the easy way. For me, that is the real message of Hanuka.

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