The Story of Hanukah

Hanukah begins at sunset today, so I thought I would write a little about this holiday. Hanukah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. It is an eight-day celebration that lasts from the twenty-fifth day on Kislev to the second day of Tevet. Since the Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar, the days float around from November to December in the Gregorian calendar. This year the days of Hanukah are celebrated from November 28 to December 6.

English: Hanukkah menorah, known also as Hanuk...

Hanukkah was not a major holiday in the Jewish calendar, unlike Passover or the High Holy Days. The festival has increased in importance among North American Jews because of its proximity to Christmas. There is even a tendency among Gentiles to regard Hanukkah as some sort of Jewish Christmas. This is unfortunate since the backgrounds of the two holidays are quite different. The story of Hanukkah is one of the Jewish people fighting for their freedom to worship God in their own way. I think this story is inspiring and worth learning, both for Jews and Gentiles.

The history goes back to the time of Alexander the Great. He conquered the Persian Empire in one of the most remarkable military campaigns in history. Unfortunately, when he died in 323 BC, he left no provision for any successors and so his generals fought among themselves and eventually Alexander’s empire was divided among them. One of these successors was named Seleucus and he gained control of what is now Iran and Iraq. His kingdom is known to historians as the Seleucid Empire. This time is known as the Hellenistic Era.

Around 200 BC the Seleucids defeated the Egyptians and gained the territories of modern Syria and Israel. During this time the Jewish religion was tolerated and respected by the Ptolemies of Egypt. During this time, also, the Greek language and culture spread far and wide among the conquered peoples. Greek culture had become “cool” and everybody wanted to be a part of it. People who adopted Greek culture could be said to be “Hellenized” from Hellene, the Greek word for Greek. This caused no little consternation among the more traditional Jews. They were afraid that in the rush to embrace Greek culture, many Jews would fall into the worship of the Greek gods and so to idolatry. So, to some extent, the events which followed were as much a civil war as a war between the Jews and the Seleucids.

Antiochus IV

In the year 175, Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascended the throne of the Seleucids. Unlike previous Hellenistic rulers, truly believed himself a god and was eager that everyone in his realm pay divine honors to the Greek gods. For most of the people in the Empire, this was no great burden as a few more gods didn’t matter all that much. For all but the most Hellenized Jews, this was an impossible demand. There was only one God. When fighting broke out between Hellenized and traditional Jews, Antiochus sided with the Hellenized Jews and in 167 sent an army to capture Jerusalem and compel the worship of the Greek gods. A statue of Zeus was placed on the altar of the Temple and the Jewish religion was banned.

This sparked a rebellion and a guerilla war which was led by a priest named Matthias and his five sons. The most prominent of these was Judas Maccabeus. Antiochus IV had many other problems, especially with the Persians to the east and the rising power of Rome to the west, and could never spare the forces necessary to crush the revolt. By 165, the Maccabees were able to retake Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple of the defilement of the pagans.

According to legend, there was only enough oil to light the Menorah for one day, and yet miraculously, they were able to keep it lit for eight days until more oil could be procured. These eight days became known as the Festival of Lights and to commemorate this victory and miracle, a nine-branched menorah is lit. A more prosaic explanation for the origins of this holiday is that the first Hanukkah was a belated celebration of Sukkot. Whatever the truth of the matter might be, I wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah.

 

Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. The story of Thanksgiving that we remember, with the turkey meal, etc is based on the Thanksgiving celebration held by the settlers of the Plymouth colony in 1621. They had a lot to be thankful for. These Pilgrims had decided to immigrate to the New World so that they could practice their religion freely. They had intended to settle at the mouth of the Hudson River but their departure from England on the Mayflower had been delayed and the trip across the Atlantic had been rough. They reached America farther north than they had intended, at Provincetown Harbor in November 1620. While they did not really have a legal right to create a colony in what is now Massachusetts, no one really wanted to spend the winter at sea so, on December 21, 1620, the Pilgrims began to build the settlement at Plymouth.

Model of a 17th century English merchantman sh...
Would you spend any more time in a leaky ship like this than you had to? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first winter at the new colony was very hard. About half of the colonists had died by spring. By what must have seemed incredible luck or divine providence, the colonists were able to make contact with two Natives who could speak English. One of these was named Samoset and he had learned some English from English trappers and fishermen. He introduced the Pilgrims to the other man, Squanto, who had a truly remarkable life. Captured by Englishmen, he was taken to England and instructed in the English language in the hope that he could serve as an interpreter. When he was brought back to New England, he was captured again, this time by members of John Smith’s expedition who planned to sell captured Indians as slaves in Spain. In Spain, some friars learned of this plan and had the Indians freed and instructed in the Catholic religion. Squanto was able to make his way back to England and then across the Atlantic. There, he discovered that his whole tribe had been destroyed by the diseases, probably smallpox, that the Europeans had brought to the New World.

Squanto was willing to help the Pilgrims and taught what they needed to know to survive in New England. The harvest in the summer of 1621 was good enough that the Pilgrims did not need to fear starvation that winter. They had a feast that Autumn to celebrate their good fortune and to give thanks to God. This celebration was not considered to be very remarkable. Thanksgiving celebrations were fairly common at the time, especially among people who had successfully made the difficult and dangerous voyage across the ocean. It was not really the first Thanksgiving.

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...
The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930).

There were proclamations of thanksgiving at various times in American history, especially during the Revolutionary War, but the holiday we know of as Thanksgiving really began in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that a national day of Thanksgiving was to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November. It might not seem that there was all that much to be thankful for in the middle of the Civil War but the tide was turning in the North’s favor after the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg that July and the country was continuing to grow in strength and prosperity despite the horrors of the war. Lincoln’s proclamation set the date for the national holiday that has been celebrated ever since. Franklin Roosevelt set the date a week earlier in 1939 in the hope that an earlier date would mean a longer shopping season for Christmas, thus helping the economy still mired in the Great Depression. This was not without controversy and in October 1941 Congress officially set the date of Thanksgiving on the fourth, and almost always the last, Thursday in November.

So, enjoy your turkey but remember to be thankful to God. If you happen to be an American you really are one of the luckiest people on Earth.

The Dogs Don’t Like It

I once heard a story, probably apocryphal, about a pet food company that unrolled a new brand of dog food to great excitement. After the initial burst of interest, sales of the new brand dropped rapidly. Week after week fewer boxes of the new brand sold. Finally, the CEO of the pet food company called a meeting of all the chief executives of the company to determine why the new brand wasn’t selling. One executive after another proposed ever more elaborate theories about the declining sale. Maybe the advertising campaign needed to be changed, they said, or maybe the boxes were the wrong size or color. Perhaps the company needed to change the price. None of these theories seemed satisfactory to the CEO until finally, he turned to a lowly lab technician who had helped develop the new brand. “I think” the technician stammered nervously, “the problem might be that the dogs don’t like it.”

Last week the Democrats suffered some stunning losses in the off-year elections, elections they would normally have won easily. In Virginia, Glenn Youngkin narrowly defended former governor Terry McAuliffe in a race the Democrat was widely expected to win. The Republicans swept the state, winning the governorship and the elections for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General as gaining a majority in the lower house of the Virginia legislature. In New Jersey, one of the bluest states, Republican Jack Ciattarelli almost defeated Phil Murphy in the governor’s race. All over the country, the Republicans have won odd elections and ballot initiatives, which does not bode well for the Democrats’ chances in next year’s midterm elections.

Naturally, the Democrats are trying to discover the reason for their unexpected losses. Perhaps they were too moderate. Maybe if Terry McAuliffe had run more to the left he would have won. Maybe the voters are frustrated because Congress has not passed an infrastructure bill or done more to enact Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. Maybe Republican voter suppression tipped the scale in their favor. Probably Republican fear-mongering about trumped-up culture wars encouraged conservative Deplorables to vote while discouraging decent people. Then, there is the old standby; it was racism. The people of Virginia and elsewhere are racist, and the unfortunate losses were the result of a whitelash. Never mind that Virginians just elected their first Black, woman Lieutenant Governor, this was White supremacy at work.

An obvious white supremacist

So far, what had been missing in these post-election analyses is the obvious fact that the Democrats lost because the people do not like the woke, extreme leftist policies they have been pushing. People do not want their children to be taught race hatred, even in the name of fighting against racism. White parents do not want their children taught that they are evil oppressors because of their skin color. Black parents do not want their children taught that they are helpless victims because of their skin color. No one wants their children to be taught to hate themselves and their own country.

Parents do not want their daughters raped by skirt-wearing boys who claim to be gender fluid. They do not want their children to be exposed to pornographic materials allegedly t0 promote gay acceptance but which seems suspiciously like grooming by pedophiles. People want their children educated, not indoctrinated. They are growing weary of schools shut down for COVID while they go out to work, somehow ensuring that remote education is working.

People are also tired of the vaccine mandates, the mask mandates, and the whole idea that someone in some office in Washington, or Richmond, should have the power to control or destroy their lives, based not on any consistent scientific principles but seemingly on random whims. People are exasperated by higher prices and empty shelves in stores. They are angered by a border in chaos, increasing crime rates, and their country being humiliated abroad.

Most of all, people are upset with a ruling elite that refuses to take their problems seriously. Parents who take issue with their children being taught Critical Race Theory are racists and domestic terrorists. Americans complaining about the economy are spoiled and need to lower expectations. We are deplorable for wanting leaders that put America and Americans first. Instead of coming up with solutions, they laugh at us.

If the Democrats want to win elections they need to start paying more attention to what the people out there really want and less attention to Twitter activists ideologues. If they do this, the Democratic Party might become a truly American political party again and not a continuing menace to our freedom and way of life.

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