Chanukah's Timeless Message: Celebrating Faith and Freedom
07 December 23
Masonic Chanukah Message - Rabbi Brother Danny Yaffe
The story of ancient Chanukah takes place in the year 167 BCE at the peak of Hellenism and when some of the greatest Greek philosophers we know of today were alive.
The King, Antiochus IV Epiphanes ruled the massive Seleucid Kingdom that also included a tiny area of land called Judea or Israel. The inhabitants of Israel by this point were spread throughout Babylon, Egypt, Spain, Africa and the silk routes.
By this point too, the Hellenistic influences that so many other religions and peoples in the surrounding areas had accepted so readily, while slowly seeping into Jewish culture and various cultural observances including even the office of the High Priest on occasion, nonetheless found serious resistance in affect the ways of the ruling class and more influential groups within the Jewish communities.
You see, politically and religiously, Jews of that era were split into different theological groups with distinct practices and scholars. The most prominent and influential amongst the communities of Jews were the Pharisees which comprised the rabbinical leadership that followed biblical and rabbinic interpretation and the second most influential being the Sadducees and lay leaders who primarily only followed biblical law, denouncing the rabbinical leaders as being simply power hungry.
As part of attempting to gain political control of the current population, they often allied themselves with the Seleucid Kingdom, promoting Hellenistic ideals while the Seleucids used them as a way to control the rather rebellious Pharisees from regaining complete Pharisee sovereign control over Judea and Samaria and the High Priest office.
It is in this bubbling, divided, disjointed melting pot of political and religious upheaval that the story of Chanukah takes place. The Hasmonean family who were part of the Pharisee sect, led by the High Priest at the time, Matityahu, and his 5 sons and daughter, saw that religious life and the slowly following degradation of the moral building blocks that connected the Jews to G-d were crumbling with Hellenistic ideals taking over, decided now it was time to initiate a rebellion that would last for 26 years.
But what was the tipping point though? What was the pinpoint issue that ignited the rebellion and eventual retreat by the Seleucid empire from Judea & Samaria?
Judaism's prime belief is the supranational belief in a one and only powerful G-d that controls every atom of creation and reality with an incomprehensible and infinite plan, while the Hellenistic belief system at that time was based on logic and reasoning, even though they had a hierarchy of gods, nonetheless, each controlled a different aspect of our creation and reality based upon the cause and affect theory.
Practically speaking, this created major uncompromisable differences for the Jewish communities at large, whose very commandments, traditions and laws often had no logical basis or reason, but simply they observed those commandments because they believed G-d had commanded them to, and they believed this maintained their connection to a single all-inclusive G-d. While the Hellenists, including many Jews, allied with the Seleucids felt that while there was no issue with the Torah, it was only good for intellectual study and philosophy, but when it came to practical action and worship, even for a god, it must be for a rational outcome or purpose or it was considered uncultured and contradictory to the development of society and civilisation.
Let us Imagine for a minute an observer looking at a mason at work, looking at the working tools such as a trowel or a chisel as being independent like a god having its own power, and the GAOTU being as a Mason is disconnected from his tools, it is foolish and would make no sense. As we know, the working tools are how the Mason makes the stone, while an uninitiated observer will look at the Mason working and not understand the what’s and why expecting the works to follow the limits of the observer's logic and reasoning, but that doesn’t mean the Mason is any less knowledgeable or skilled or less of an expert. It is not a requirement of the observer to understand the work or the process to validate the master mason being a master, an expert and a professional in his trade nor are his tools able to do anything of themselves unless handled by the master mason in an expert manner.
This was the debate and point of division.
And for as long as the Pharisees encouraged this supranational required belief, the Jews would not and could not be accepted as equal citizens of the Seleucid kingdom, which for obvious reasons, King Antiochus could not accept. Therefore, they placed a ban on all Jewish religious practices such as Kosher, the services in the Temple, circumcision, laws of purity & and impurity and Shabbat.
But after 26 years of Hasmonean-led outmatched rebellion, using guerrilla tactics, it led to costly and inefficient damages to the Seleucid armies, whereupon they decided to withdraw from Judea and Samaria and the Temple was finally re-established on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev.
As part of that rededication, the Maccabis, (the name that rebels that followed the Hasmonean family called themselves) wanted to light the Golden Temple Menorah which symbolised lighting up the world with G-dly supranational spiritual light. Unfortunately, as part of the conquest by the Seleucids to ban the irrational concept of intangible purity, they desecrated all the spiritually pure oil in the Temple. However, the Hasmoneans found a small bottle which had only 1 day's oil worth, which miraculously lasted 8 days, until they were able to acquire more of the appropriate oil from the tribal lands of Asher to the west.
As we know, light, of all types in Masonic literature and ceremony, signifies the journey from ignorance to enlightenment through personal educational development. However, let us not forget that this enlightenment is first based on trust, faith and hope.
The story of modern Chanukah takes place now in 2023.
The mistaken belief that through the light of education, we are actually freeing ourselves from the ignorance and darkness of faith. Through education one becomes more cultured and has less need for faith and belief when in essence, the exact opposite is true, first, we must solidify our faith, our hope, our trust and our belief in the GAOTU and then through the various vessels of educational progress we make in our lives, through character development, we can work on ourselves to shape our world and personal immediate environments into perfect building blocks of civilisation.
Thus, the following year, the Sages and leaders of the Pharisees established an 8-day festival of light, where till today the festival is celebrated globally within the Jewish community by lighting a symbolic Chanukiah in each home, eating deep-fried foods such as doughnuts and potato latkes (pancakes), as a consistent reminder; That the light of belief, education and intellectual discovery will always overwhelm and conquer the darkness of ignorance.
That supranational connection is symbiotic and vital to one’s educational growth!
Our belief, trust and hope that drives us as better masons is through enlightening the world via means of cause and effect, through intellect and social and personal development.
Happy Chanukah, Festivus Maximus and Seasons Greetings!