There will be a convergence of the American holiday of Thanksgiving and the Jewish holiday of Chanukah this Thursday. While many are consuming their Thanksgiving turkey along with numerous family traditional dishes our Jewish friends will be lighting the Shamus candle then using it to light two more candles as it will be the second eve of Chanukah with the first day concluding at sundown, conveniently likely between football games (some traditions have been known to impinge on other older traditions and many count football among them). Both Chanukah and Thanksgiving are holidays honoring and remembering G0d, from whom all bounty originates. So, what are the actual histories of these two holidays?
Let’s take Thanksgiving first. We can actually thank one woman for the fact that Thanksgiving is a recognized national holiday and her name is Sarah Josepha Hale. She drove a one person lobbying effort for years in her pursuit of her single passion, making the holiday of Thanksgiving a national holiday insisting that the last Thursday of November for it to be celebrated annually across the United States. She would regularly file petitions with the sitting President of the United States pushing Presidents Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan all to no avail. Finally she found a receptive ear in a fellow religiously inspired President and one who it is said was of kind disposition and gentle character though not a man to be opposed or taken lightly. It was with the following words that on Oct. 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November from that day forth “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” This did not bring Sarah Josepha Hale’s drive to make Thanksgiving the day we remember, or at last try to make it remembered in the same religious and dedicated spirit that she saw this great and oft mistaken for the start of the Christmas shopping season and college football playoffs, holiday to be. So, this year right before the Turkey is given the fateful first slicing why not say a quick thank you and toast the spirit of “The Godmother of Thanksgiving”, a title she definitely earned, to Sarah Josepha Hale. So, have a hearty fest and a peaceful and pleasant Thanksgiving to all.
Chanukah is so much more than a simple holiday over the one small flask which contained but a single day’s amount of oil that was still unopened and pure enough to be utilized to light the Holy Temple Lamps, even a single lamp yet that oil supplied their needs for eight full days, the same amount of time necessary to prepare new purified oil thus finally having a supply that would provide the lamps lighting and the Temple could once again serve the L0rd. Chanukah is more than a holiday celebrating the miraculous victory of the small band of Hebrews, Judeans, in their war of attrition which eventually ousted the Hellenistic Assyrian Greeks, one of the four empires which were set up when Alexander the Great divided his entire empire between four of his most loyal and finest generals upon his death. The Hellenistic culture worshiped the human form and considered the human as virtually godlike and, as is occurring in parts of Europe today, forbid the desecration of the human form thus outlawing circumcision as it was seen as defiling the infant and detracting from his perfection. Many Jews remained insistent on carrying out the circumcision of their male children even knowing that when caught the penalty was death. The best part of the story though is exactly how it is remembered that the revolt was initiated.
Many of the Jewish priests who cared for the Holy Temple in Jerusalem had allowed, as they were threatened and feared for their lives, pagan idols and pagan ceremonies to be held in the Holy Temple. When the Assyrian Greeks would travel into the remote areas outside of Jerusalem they usually would try to provoke the people knowing that they did not follow the Hellenistic ways and remained faithful to G0d which angered the Greeks. It was on one of these encounters where things went off on a tangent starting the revolution. The small village was tended by a priestly family by the name of Maccabees. When the Greek officer demanded that the father of this priestly family, Mattithias, make a sacrifice to one of the Greek gods he refused. There was a High Priest from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem who talked slightly aside with Mattithias in an attempt to persuade him that there was no harm in doing as commanded and that it would prevent giving the Greeks any reason to cause harm to the village or its villagers. Mattithias became enraged and stole the sword from the Greek officer’s scabbard and slayed the High Priest and then turned the sword upon the Greek officer killing him. His sons, who would be led by Judah after their father’s death, joined in and they slew a number of Greek soldiers. It was then that they realized that a larger contingency of soldiers would soon be in their village and they should head off into the Judean Hills and hide in some cave or remote place. It was what Mattithias then said that turned a family running for their lives into a well manned and soon armed small army of liberation. Before turning to flee Mattithias screamed, “Those who are with G0d come with me.” That rallying cry was the ignition of the revolution which had some of the worst odds of success. Fighting a mostly hide and ambush guerilla style war the small army eventually made retaining the small and insignificant strip of land too costly and the Greeks retreated. Then came the cleansing of the Temple and the rededication of the Temple and in turn the people as many had adopted Hellenistic practices and needed to be, as too many Jews today could use, a reeducation of what it meant to be a Jew and the covenant, commandments, Torah, religious rites, ceremonies and everything that makes a Jew Jewish. So have a happy Chanukah to our Jewish friends.
Beyond the Cusp