Friday, December 15, 1995

The Other Side of History: An Ancient- Modern Hanukka Story Erev Hanukka

The house was surrounded by special law enforcement agents. Nobody would escape. Using the newly invented bullhorn, a voice blasted into the tense stillness of the early morning. "OUT OF THE HOUSE, ALL OF YOU! - Mattitayhu, you and all your trouble-making boys - out - NOW. The whole area is surrounded - don’t make us come in after you."
Inside, father Mattitayhu sat in council with his son Judah. "What do you say? Is there anything we can do," Mattitayhu asked his son. Judah shook his head. "We can’t just surrender - that would be the end of all our plans, even before we start. Today, our cousin, that assimilated Hellinist is going to speak in the town square. We must not let them succeed - at any cost."
"You’re one hundred percent correct, but what are we to do? They have us surrounded."
"Let’s call the lawyer and have him go to court. I’m sure they don’t have a warrant, and we haven’t been indicted."
Suddenly, without further warning, the doors crashed to the floor. Tens of uniformed police burst into the room and scattered throughout the house. Within seconds Mattetayhu and all his sons were manacled, hands and feet. "That’s it - it’s all over," frowned the police chief. "You’re out of action."
Judah cried out, "Why - what have we done? We only care about Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael. What have we done wrong? What charges have been filed against us?"
"Shut up before we fix you up. Here, here are the orders, signed and sealed. We throw you into the cell and throw away the key. And we don’t need any fancy judges, court orders, nothing. The administrative detention orders give us all the authority we need. You start with six months in the slammer. And I have news for you - that’s just the beginning. You’re all finished."
With that, the family, Mattitayhu and his sons were marched out of their home, into the police wagon and taken to the local prison. Once locked inside the jail cell, the men looked at each other and asked, "what’s next?" Judah piped up, "maybe we’ll be able to stir up public support for us. Everyone knows us - they won’t take this sitting down."
"You’re right," replied father Mattitayhu, "but that won’t help. We are the extremists of the neighborhood. The trouble-makers. Our youth movement, the ‘Macabees’ has been outlawed. And don’t forget, everyone is afraid. Anyone who opens his mouth is next in line to wind up like us. Don’t count on outside help. HaShem have mercy."
"But what about Jerusalem, what about Beit HaMikdash, what will become of them", cried out Shimon. "Do we just hand all of our holy cities to the enemy, without a fight?"
"Shimon, what do you suggest - what can we do from here?" The sons silently lowered their heads and remained silent. And so it was. The outlawed Macabbees imprisoned, without leadership, without hope.
The assimilationists, the Hellinists, signed the peace treaty with the invading Greeks. The Temple was reopened and turned over to an international religious force. Cohenim were forbidden to come within 3 miles of the Temple, - it was declared ‘closed religious territory’. Only specially-permitted individuals were allowed to enter the Temple, and only to visit, not to pray. For all knew that it was really a Greek monument, without any Jewish tradition. The Greeks sacrificed to their gods and, once a day, let others watch. The Macabeean claims to religious rights were disregarded - for their demands were political and extremist in nature - an obstacle to peace, an instigation, inciting against official government policy. Here and there pockets of ‘faithfuls’ held illegal, secret meetings, but most of these were discovered by the security forces who had spies everywhere. Some were arrested, some simply disappeared.
Mattitayhu and his sons, forgotten by almost all, rotted in jail. But they didn’t forget. Everyday they prayed to G-d in heaven, repeated Psalms, and recited the Torah they knew by heart. They didn’t know when it would happen, but eventually they would leave the prison compound which held them as prisoners, all these years.
Finally, one day, it happened. The cell door opened and the prison director led them to the gates of the jail. "You are free. The governor has decided to pardon you, in celebration of the festival."
"Which festival," they asked. "What is the date?" The prison director looked at them in amazement. "You don’t know? Today is the 25th of Kislev - today we celebrate the festival of Hanukka." "And just what is this festival of Hanukka?"
"You are really behind the times. Hanukka is the festival of darkness. On this day, we witnessed a miracle at the place you once called the Temple. Of course, it is now a Greek site of worship. And I must warn you, you may not go within three miles of the spot."
Yes, but what is the miracle? What are you celebrating?"
"Oh yes, that. On this day, the Greeks, using a vial of oil found in the building, attempted to light the Menora, once utilized by the Cohanim in the Temple. And lo and behold, the oil wouldn’t ignite. They tried everything. When they lit the same oil outside the building, it caught. But inside, inside the Temple, it wouldn’t work. The oil, good, pure olive oil, refused to be lit. And this went on for eight days. For eight days no oil was lit in the Temple premises. The building remained dark. Finally, after eight days, the Greeks managed to light an oil lamp. Then the new Temple was sanctified. To commemorate this unnatural event, a celebration of darkness was declared. For eight days all people in Jerusalem are forbidden to light oil lamps. It is in honor of this festival that you are being released. You must give special thanks to the kind charitable governor who has pardoned you. But remember, do not light oil lamps for eight days, and do not enter within three miles of the Temple."
The freed Macabees looked at the director and then at each other. They then turned around and walked back into the prison.

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