by Cemach Feldstein
First Published in Geto yedies (“Ghetto News”, Vilna Ghetto), December 7, 1942.
Long, extremely long ago, in deep antiquity, the Hanukkah events took place. It is now twenty one hundred years since that time and these events still appear to be alive, actual and interwoven into our own reality.
We thank Providence for the miracles which took place for our ancestors’ sake “in those days and at this time”. They occurred in the past, but as it were, exist today. As always, in Jewish history, past and present are so very similar that they can almost never be separated one from the other. It is said that the “children” have the same fortune as their parents, i.e., forefathers.
Once again a small group stands against an oppressive majority. Once more, victory can consist only in the triumph of the Idea over physical force. The Idea must, like then, grow out of the people’s soul, out of recognition of their own Jewish cultural tasks.
We no longer retain a naïve and romantic attitude toward the military and political exploits of the Hasmoneans. We know now that after a short flourishing, an inner degeneration began to set in and that political independence was s sham. We also know that a bloody civil war between parts of the Hasmonean family resulted in their demise. Nevertheless, an abundance of light streams forth toward us from that far off period. The Hasmonean heroes remain symbols for us of Jewish national pride and of the Jewish will to rise and revive.
The Jewish people no longer see the political mistakes of the latter Hasmoneans. They hold their concentrated gaze upon the bright beginnings, when Mattityahu and his five sons set out to struggle for Jewish religious freedom, Jewish thought and the Jewish way of life.
It was, first of all, a struggle for the strength of society’s morale against wild physical wantonness. It was a struggle for the inner nobility of the soul against external beauty. It was a struggle for national and historic responsibility over pleasure seeking personal arbitrariness. The Jewish people struggles for the free development of Jewish distinctiveness against an enforced foreign culture.
Hanukkah, therefore, has become the Festival of light. The legend tells us that the little jar of oil, which the Hasmoneans found inside the Temple after their victory, was so small that it was only sufficient for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. We presently realized that the miracle was even greater. For even today, after two thousand years, we continue to use that oil from that small jar, and the jar is not empty.
When blessing the Hanukkah candles, we use these remarkably profound words, “These candles which we kindle are not permitted to be used for any profane purpose, but they must only be gazed upon”.
This is the true Jewish observance of cultural values and Spirit in general. It is false and dangerous to cherish culture because of the material benefit that it can bring us. Knowledge and Art have intrinsic worth in and of themselves. They should never become desecrated for profit, party of political purposes.
Rooted in this short Hanukkah blessing is the idea of the primacy of Spirit over the material, the independent self worth of the culture and its separation from lowly earthly affairs.
Then shall these Hanukkah candles warm and strengthen our hearts in the belief in the ultimate victory of Light and Spirit in the world.