A Maccabee is a type of Jew. A way of looking at the world. Strong, unafraid of anything or anybody. We are present and proud. We feel empathy through knowing how blessed we are with strength. Intellectually, and physically we approach our days and the world with the confident will of a Maccabee.
The Maccabees: The Jewish army that revolted against the Syrian-Greek occupation in 139 BCE, whose miraculous victory culminated in the festival of Chanukah. Their name is an acronym of their battle cry, whose Hebrew words mean “who is likened unto You amongst all powers, O, G-d.”
Nothing could be more bleak than the future the Maccabees faced. An overwhelming superpower had occupied Israel for decades before the religious persecutions began. The Syrian Greeks had superior armies, weaponry and ammunition. They had greater reserves and better techniques. Their generals and officers, triumphant in campaigns the world over, could surely have defeated the fledgling Maccabees.
If this were not intimidating enough, consider the internal threat. A huge number of Jews had Hellenized—assimilated into the Syrian Greek culture. They rejected the laws and rituals as ancient relics, superfluous to an enlightened people. They viewed those who clung to religion as backwards, a cancer to be excised. They would do everything in their power, including fighting their own brethren, to ensure stability and the continuity of their lifestyle.
These were the odds faced by the Maccabees. Daunting, overwhelming odds. It would take a miracle to overcome these odds; there was simply no earthly plan that could deliver a Maccabean victory. Yet, the Jewish warriors rejected this script and drew on the resilience of their souls.
They faced off against the Greek army and fought an impossible war. Despite the odds, they banked on a miracle and it finally came. There was bloodshed and there was anxiety, but there was never doubt. They overcame enemies from within and without, and they triumphed.
Arriving at the Temple, they found it in shambles. A lesser people would have been discouraged by the desecration and the mammoth task of restoration. Drained by battle and depleted of spirit, all were aghast and many were overwhelmed, but Judah the Maccabee would not hear of it. The G‑d that delivered our victory, he declared, will ensure our success here, too. Let’s clean up His home.
Then came time to kindle the menorah, and we all know the story. There was no oil to be found, but this didn’t deter them. They simply refused to take no for an answer and searched till one small cruse was found. The critics and pessimists argued against kindling the light for but one night, but once again the indomitable optimism of the Maccabee prevailed. They lit the candles that one night because once kindled, a flame doesn’t die. Indeed, the next eight days became history.