cathy-manorah-fullcathy-headshotBy Cathy Hird

This is a season when it can feel as if everything runs short. Town budgets for snow removal have nothing left. Time to accomplish our long list is running out. The store does not have the great gift we wanted or the size of turkey we need. Our supply of energy fizzles.

One story told in this season tells of something that should have run out but did not. The season of Chanukah began Tuesday at dusk, and this festival celebrates a miracle of something that lasted beyond what it should. Those who celebrate Chanukah could tell this story better, but let me give a try. The background is important, so I start there.

About 200 BCE, the lands of Israel and Judah were under the control of an empire based in land we now call Syria. The ruler of that empire, Antiochus III honoured the prohibition against image worship in Hebrew law. This was, however, a time of Roman expansion, and when this empire was annexed by Rome, Israel experienced Roman taxation and control.

When Antiochus IV became king, he increased the taxation demands on Israel and decided to impose the Roman practice of bringing "peace" by imposing common religious practice. He installed an image of Zeus in the Jerusalem temple.

That was the last straw. Zeus was not the LORD. The first two commandments are absolutely clear: there is one G-d and because this G-d is beyond human capacity to encompass, there must be no images of any kind.

The anger that had been growing with the taxation, the brutality, the foreign values flared at this blasphemous intrusion in the holy place. Strong leaders stepped forward, gathered and trained an army. These were guerilla fighters, poorly equipped but determined. There were few of them compared to those the Antiochus IV sent. But they won.

When they chased the foreign soldiers, they cleansed the temple of all the polluting images, all the foreign accretions. Then, they set out to re-consecrate the holy space.

One of the things they needed was a lamp that would burn all night. This menorah had to burn consecrated oil, but all they could find was one jar, enough for one night. It was not enough, but it was better than nothing.

Priests prayed and sang and lit the lamp. Miraculously, it burned for all eight nights of the festival. In eight days, the priests could prepare and consecrate oil to keep the lamp burning.

As I ponder this story, I do not think that this is a story of stretching ourselves beyond our endurance. It does not teach that when you feel like you do not have enough, push yourself harder, stretch yourself thinner. Rather, there was a gift that allowed a small amount to be enough. It is a story of upholding what we believe and trusting that there will be enough. And it tells of a miracle, something mysterious, an act of G-d.

For me, there was more than one miracle: the willingness to stand up for what the people believed was the first miracle. Finding leaders who risked death to fight oppression was a miracle. The strength and strategy of a small band to defeat a legion was a miracle. The oil that became enough was one miracle, the most visible.

In the celebration of Chanukah, the gift of enduring light, light beyond what was expected is symbolized as each evening for eight days one more candle is lit. And there are great latkes to eat and other things to enjoy.

People in the middle of celebrating Chanukah would have more to say about this story. I would love to have their comments on what I shared. Those with friends and co-workers who are celebrating the eight day festival might ask what it means to them.

As I listen to people talk about this year's celebrations, I sense the way joy bubbles up today from a deep and enduring history. And I hear a reminder not to fear scarcity but to trust that G-d knows what we need.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walter's Falls.


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