According to the First Book of Maccabees,  (I Maccabees 2:15-26), the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks was inspired by Pinchas. A Greek officer came to the town of Modiin, set up an altar to a Greek god, and told Matityahu, a priest and an influential leader of the community, to offer a sacrifice on that altar. When he refused, a Jew came out of the crowd and obeyed the royal decree. When he offered his sacrifice to the Greek gods, Matityahu killed him on the altar, killed the Greek officer, and tore the altar down. He then declared “Let all who are zealous for the Torah and supports the Covenant come with me! (2:27)” in a line that is reminiscent both of Pinchas, who killed Zimri and Kozbi because he was “zealous” for God, and of Moshe, who, ordered the slaughter of everyone who worshipped the Golden Calf, and declared “Everyone who is for the Eternal, to me!” 

It is often taught that the Maccabees fought not only against the Greek army that occupied Judea, but also against Jews who supported them, and had exchanged their Jewishness for Greek religion and culture. The war against the Greeks certainly began in that way.  

We may, rightly, have a strong aversion to religious violence. In our day, when we hear of people committing acts of violence against others out of zeal for their religion, we are appalled. We see anyone who kills because others do not follow their brand of a particular religion as barbaric. We are reminded of ISIS, or of the Spanish Inquisition, or of Orthodox girls in Israel who are beaten and harassed by Charedim for not dressing “modestly” enough. We do not make heroes of such people. 

It is telling that the Maccabean revolt ended with a holiday celebration. According to both the First and Second Books of Maccabees, the Jewish rebels cleaned and rededicated the Temple to the Eternal on the twenty fifth of Kislev, and held a holiday for eight days. According to the Second Book of Maccabees, that holiday was Sukkot, as Sukkot could not be celebrated in its proper time while Antiochus’ decrees against Judaism were in force. The familiar story of the oil that was only enough to last for one day, but miraculously burned for eight, is not found in the Books of Maccabees, but in the Talmud. If we want to understand Chanukah, we need to understand Sukkot.  

There are two aspects of Sukkot that shape our understanding of Chanukah today. One is the arba minim, or “lulav and etrog.” They each represent different kinds of Jews: one with both good deeds and Torah learning, one with Torah learning but no good deeds, one with good deeds but no Torah learning, and one with neither. We gather them together as one bundle, and wave them before the Eternal, showing that all of Israel are one, despite our diversity, and despite our imperfections. The other aspect of Sukkot that we need to look at is the many animals sacrificed over the course of the holiday as Musaf offerings. Those animals are a total of seventy, representing the seventy nations (all nations) that will ultimately come to know the Eternal.  

Bringing Sukkot back into the story of Chanukah is a meaningful counterbalance to the story of the religious zealots who saw anyone who did not support their religious cause as the enemy.  The Jewish people are one in our diversity. We hope to survive as a people, of course, and to do so in peace with the seventy nations of the world. 

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