A Dedication to the Jewish People

27 Dec

To all our Jewish brothers and sisters: Happy Hanukkah!

The Jewish people were the first to receive the Word of God. Abraham, the father in faith of Jews, Muslims, and Christians, was rewarded for his faith with God’s promise to make his people “number as the stars”. (Genesis 22:17) Then, God made his Law clear to the Jews, who were first to receive the Ten Commandments through Moses (cf. Deuteronomy 5:6-21).

We Christians say often during the Christmas season, “Emmanuel”, meaning “God is with us”, in the person of Jesus Christ. God has always been with the Jews, too. When God’s chosen people have been content, God has been with them. When they doubted God, he was there. When they met persecution, God was there. Christians, as descendants in faith from the Jews, know of the same special human interaction with God.

The beginning of Hanukkah came out of a period of persecution for the Jews at the hands of their Hellenistic (Greek) rulers. Antiochus IV attempted to force Greek paganism on the Hebrews. In c.168 B.C., the temple was desecrated. The wall separating Jews and Gentiles was torn down, and the remaining structure was used to worship Zeus. In the meantime, many Jews were killed for practicing their faith openly. Many submitted to the Greek tyranny. But a brave group led by Mattathias and then by Judas Maccabee (“hammer” in Hebrew) began an uprising that lasted about 3 years. This entire group of armed Israelites became known as the Maccabees, after their leader. Their story is told in 1 and 2 Maccabees, in the Apocryphal part of the Bible (the section between the Old and New Testaments). I feel blessed in this way (and in many other ways) to be a Catholic, since only Catholic and Orthodox Bibles contain these books. They are a valuable teaching tool and a thorough look into Israel’s history. The Councils of Trent and of Florence affirmed the place of the first two books of the Maccabees in the Canon.

At the end of the rebellion, the Jews reconstructed the Temple and rededicated it to Yahweh. A menorah, as well as jewels, precious metals, and other sacrifices were placed on the altar. It was apparent, though, that there was only enough oil to keep the menorah lit for a day. It was lit anyway, and it miraculously burned for 8 days. Therefore, on the 25th day of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar, a candle is lit on the menorah to commemorate this event. And on each successive day for eight days, a new candle is lit. All the candles are lit from the central Shamash candle(Shamash means “servant”- as we are servants to the Servant God…my thought thrown in). Thus began the festival of Hanukkah. (1 Maccabees 4:36-61)

The uprising between 168 and 165 B.C. didn’t end the Greek occupation of Israel, but it allowed for the rebuilding of the Temple. The Greeks were only succeeded by an arguably greater menace nearly 100 years afterward: the Romans. The Jews continued to face persecution through the centuries, right up to the present day. To clarify, I’m not saying this to deny that some Jews have been persecutors, only to recognize the times the Jews have been on the receiving end. Some people who profess to be Christians have denigrated the Jewish people as well.

As the word “Hanukkah” means dedication (the dedication of the Temple to God, properly defined) I dedicate this article to the Jews. We pray that they may practice their faith without struggle, and in turn be an increasingly peaceful people themselves. And to our Jewish friends: Happy Hanukkah!

WRS

See http://www.historychannel.com/exhibits/holidays/hanukkah/traditions.html
and http://biblia.com/jesusbible/maccabees1.htm#3-%20Judas%20Maccabee

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