Nothing chaps my ass more than when a Jew declares that Chanukah is "just a minor holiday that got big because of Christmas." This kind of statement is typically made by a Jew that just doesn't know their history, or the ramifications of the holiday. Chanukah is, in my opinion, one of the most critical festivals in the Jewish calendar.
Chanukah is not a time for giving presents. This is a modern convention that has led many non-Jews, and secular Jews, to think that Chanukah is the "Jewish Christmas." It is anything but, though it does mark a birth, well...really a rebirth.
In part it commemorates the victory of the Maccabean led Jewish fighters over the Syrian Greeks who had outlawed Torah study, the use of Hebrew language, circumcision, and other vital Jewish practices. It was also a victory over the so-called Hellenist Jews who desired to assimilate into Greek society, adopt their religious practices, and culture.
In the wake of this military and cultural victory, the Temple was reclaimed, and the process of its purification and rededication (the word chanukah means "dedication" in Hebrew) began. Even before the Temple had been cleaned of the impure animals that had been brought in for sacrifice by the Greeks, and their idols had been removed, the Maccabees desired to relight the fires of the Temple's menorah; the seven branched candelabra whose flames were ritually kindled by the priests as commanded by Hashem. Only one cruse of oil bearing the unbroken seal of the high priest could be found in the Temple compound. It should have only lasted for one day, but burned for eight.
This past week, our rabbi asked us why is it that Chanukah's primary remembrance is that of the burning of the oil, and not the military victory over the Greeks? To my mind it is because all things come from Hashem. The Maccabean victory, the reclamation of the Temple, the oil, all were a product of Divine Will. The oil, the rededication of the Temple, this is what gave the defeat of the Greeks meaning. But the rabbi made another point.
The Maccabees, still bloody from the battle, the Temple unclean, desired to kindle the fires of the menorah to awaken the Jewish heart, to be a sign that our national and spiritual life would never be extinguished, so long as we stand by who we are, and never acquiesce to those who attempt to break our bond with Hashem, assimilate, or destroy us.
Today, in the reborn State of Israel, the modern Hellenist Jews; the Baraks, Peres, and Bibis of Israel, still desire to makes us like the rest of the world. They seek to divide us from our land, to forsake our bond with Hakadosh Borachu, the Holy One Blessed Be He. All throughout the festival of Chanukah, the Jews of Judea and Samaria will be rededicating themselves to their bond with G-d, the land He has given us as the embodiment of His unbreakable covenant with us, and to their fight (which should be the cause of all of the Jewish people) to continue to live in and build in the heartland of our people.
Beit El, Chevron, Shiloh...these are not places that we have invaded and stolen. They are places that have been ours for more than 3000 years. This land was not given to Ishmael and Esav. This land was given to us. It was not given to the Muslims by Allah. It was given to us, and the Koran teaches this. The land is not the Knesset's to freeze. It is ours to build up and live in. The Land of Israel is the home of the Jewish people. It is time to bring an end to the Arab occupation.
This Chanukah, above all others, when the world is lining up to break Israel, drive us from our land, drive us from Jerusalem, and the Hellenists of the Knesset seek to make Israel just another country, rather than the land of the Jewish nation, bound in an everlasting covenant with G-d, we must kindle the fires of our history and purpose, stand up, and push back. It is long past time for us to shed the shtetl mentality of exile, and embrace the strength and faith of the Maccabees.
Have a blessed, joyous Chanukah and Shabbat. May the flames of the chanukiah burn in the heart of every Jew, inspire us to turn back to our purpose, complete the liberation of our land, and return to Hashem.
For more on Chanukah, check out this post at Bob Martin's blog.