Of all the festivals, Chanuka most certainly epitomizes the, ‘They tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat’ script. Yet we very quickly stop eating. The 10th of Tevet follows closely on its heels, and merely a week later we find ourselves fasting for the destruction of the Temple (albeit the first one, not the second).
2186 years ago, a paltry Jewish army rested after miraculously winning a battle against the mighty troops and elephants of the Greeks. Yet although the battle may have been over, the fight was not. Once the celebrations ended, there followed another 25 years of heavy battles before the land of Israel was completely in Jewish hands. Over the following years, all but one of the sons of Matityahu the Chashmonean were killed.
Not long later, by the year 70 CE, the Temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled, in an exile which we remain in until today.
In retrospect, the miracles of Chanuka were but a brief spark; the frenzied dance of a candle before it flickers one last time and dies out. Which begs the question – what happened to the rest of the story? Why did we not merit a complete redemption? What went so wrong so fast that a full peace could not be restored?
Just over half a century ago, in 1948, we once again found ourselves with hope in our hearts. Through a series of events including the devastation of the Holocaust, the 1947 United Nation’s vote, and the Arab’s refusal of partition, the Jews once again owned the majority of the land of Israel. We cheered and danced and sang as we gathered in our exiles, and again shortly afterwards when we reclaimed the Western Wall - the site of the Holy Temple and the heart of our land. But then there was the War of Independence and the Suez crisis. The Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War followed shortly afterwards, then the first Lebanon war, and the second… And here we are today; once again fighting a battle for our lives, our homeland, our people.
The miracle was great, the triumph real. Yet the peace we hoped to achieve remains elusive. Alas, we are still very much in exile. And so history repeats itself.
The sages tell us that Sinat Chinam – baseless hatred of our fellow Jew, is the reason the Second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed. The sacrifices for G-d and His Torah were enough; the love for our fellow Jews was not. And ultimately, we paid the highest price.
Discourse and rife between us are unfortunately an age-old phenomenon, dating back to the very Torah portions which we read at this time of the year. Apparent favoritism of Yosef by Yaakov, a muti-colored coat bestowed just to him. Strange dreams and strange interpretations, increasing the brothers’ hatred of Yosef. And eventually, the selling and abandonment of their own brother. The brothers were righteous men, head and shoulders above us, and we cannot profess to understand their actions. Yet minute though their real sin was and well-intentioned though they were, they made a big mistake. And this mistake has wormed its way throughout our history, rearing its ugly head time and time again to sow its seeds of hatred. We reaped its harvest at the destruction of the Temple, and we reap its devastation still today.
And this is the story of Tevet. It’s the rest of the story. A miracle that peaked, then died away. A nation almost redeemed, yet ultimately exiled. Brothers who were worthy to found an entire nation, yet who could not embrace their differences.
But our history is not a linear path. Instead, it is an upward spiral, with events repeating themselves time and time again, giving us a chance to fix what was once broken; again and again and again.
Now is the time to come together as a nation, not just in times of war, as we have come together so perfectly in the past months, but in times of peace too. To eradicate this hatred sown thousands of years ago and to embrace our multicolored differences which make us the nation that we are. For what cause is there to care about the color of another Jew’s clothing when to our enemies we all look the same?
There is a moving Hebrew poem written recently by Racheli Moshkovitz and translated into English which beautifully illustrates this:
My son returned from battle today,
His backpack bursting with items that I had not packed for him:
Socks that an Argentinian community donated,
A blanket embedded with the scent of a stranger’s home.
A blue towel from a family on the Moshav
Tzitzit from Jerusalem.
A fleece gifted by a high-tech company,
A scarf that an old woman knitted
Undershirts that were purchased by a Facebook group,
A sheet given to him by a friend.
Gloves bought by some teenage girls,
And a jacket from the closet of someone who came and wanted to give.
Spreading out all the fabrics,
They create a new Ketonet Pasim (coat of many colors).
See, Yosef, your brothers were there for you.
We are once again at a crossroad in time. We are once again ready to make history. To hug our brothers close and to never let them go. This time, let us do it right.