Alexis (until very recently, his name was Amnon) made himself comfortable in the shadow of an old sycamore… right beside the entrance to the gymnasium.
The thoughts of how much his life changed since Judea had adopted the Greek laws, culture, philosophy, science have popped into his head.
People became different. Jews welcomed Hellenisation with joy. Beauty, luxury, the power of thought… Harvests increased. The local population shaved off their beards.
A lot of attention was paid to practising sports. Panegyrics on the beauty of the body are already a norm.
The people of Judea began to introduce changes in their lives.
Alexis’s reflections were interrupted by his friend Pluto (previously called Itzhak).
“Hi, friend!” Pluto has just got out of the pool. A white cloth covered his lower body. He sat down next to Alexis, and the friends continued their long-lasting discussion about what the culture of Hellenes brings to inhabitants of Judea.
The friends’ attention was drawn by a wayfarer who was going at a fast pace up the hill toward the gymnasium. He was obviously a mountaineer who had not yet experienced the transformations.
A shaggy spade beard covered his breast. The hair was dishevelled.
The mountaineer was climbing unexpectedly rapidly.
“My name is Matisyahu. Please, call my son!”
Alexis rose to his feet out of politeness.
“Your son has classes now. We may not interrupt them.”
“I want to take him out of here! I feel my son has partaken the Greek contagion,” said the mountaineer angrily. The father cast menacing glances toward the half-naked Pluto.
“You will make a big mistake by taking your son from the gymnasium,” said Pluto, “young men practice running, long jump, discus throwing, study higher geometry, works of philosophers…”
“He must study the Torah!”
“But our gods are no less beautiful!” objected Pluto.
“Your gods!!!?… They and their animals… Fie!!!… And you, too!!!” exploded Matisyahu.
“Give me my son back, or else I will burst in!”
When a nice-looking young lad wearing a light tunic appeared before his father, the latter shouted: “Follow me!”
Having made an abrupt turn round, the mountaineer went back, away from the gymnasium. The lad, with his head bent down, followed his father.
“He makes a serious mistake,” said Pluto.
Alexis could not help having a vague feeling… that this spiteful mountaineer is yet to give them a real hard time.
Jerusalem was hard to recognise.
Many stadiums, auditoriums, theatres appeared. Jews adopted the Greek language, manners…
The population lived up to the canons of the beauty of the human body. Did sport a lot. Took interest in philosophy.
The Greek governors began to change Judea. Into their likeness.
Alexis had a walk near the stadium. The servant brought a bowl of wine.
Tastefully dressed people were passing by. Spoke Greek…
His gaze fell upon a man pulling a cart.
Alexis recognised Matisyahu at once. They last saw each other five years ago.
“Hello! Do you still not let your children into the Greek culture?”
“What culture? What are you talking about?” shouted the mountaineer.
“The superior culture,” answered Alexis.
“Many gods cannot be the superior culture!”
“Yes, we have many gods, and there is no contradiction. Some gods are worshipped by scientists, the others—by governors… We all live in harmony. The people like democracy very much.”
“Democracy?!” exclaimed Matisyahu. “The power of the crowd? Knowledge, this is the basis of governance!”
Alexis started already to lose his temper: “Well, what knowledge do you have? You have nothing… It’s Greeks who develop science!”
“Our God is our knowledge!” Matisyahu’s voice sounded like a crack of doom. “The power can be only one! The power of God!”
“What god?” Alexis was surprised. “You want to say that an unknown force can govern the people?”
“It’s not realistic! Come down to the earth. In our time, the era of enlightenment, stating that there are some unknown forces… The most superior force is the man! The human voice is God’s voice!”
Matisyahu darted a spiteful glance at Alexis, grabbed his cart and walked away quickly.
Hellenisation toughened; Greek soldiers put up field altars to make sacrifices to Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite…
There was only one unaffected place left. The old temple in Jerusalem.
Its turn came, too.
At an altar, they put a pig.
Everything was covered in blood.
His connection with God.
It was terrifying to see the fathers of Jerusalem, judges, priests, and inhabitants being driven together to the central square, taken into custody and…beaten.
One by one, the remote villages surrendered to the power of Hellenes.
The Greek state grew stronger.
Once, merchants have brought the news that in one of the mountain villages, Matisyahu killed the priest who had broken the Judaic altar and erected a Greek god at it.
Matisyahu rounded up his sons and called on them: “He who believes in God, come along with me!”
The village dwellers left with him. Jews from the neighbouring villages followed them and joined Matisyahu’s squad.
This event marked the beginning of the Maccabean Revolt.
The forces of insurgents were incommensurately smaller in comparison with the troops of Greek soldiers.
But the Maccabees did the impossible.
For the sake of the common goal.
For the sake of the faith.
In one God.
Villages and individual inhabitants between themselves…
They liberated Judea.
In commemoration of the Maccabean Revolt, we celebrate Hanukkah.
“Hanu-ko”—a stop in the middle of the path. To do a transition.
What kind of transition?
From the disconnection and the immersion into pleasures—to the unification with each other and the acceptance of the protection of the Higher power.
The Maccabees who won the victory came into the old temple in Jerusalem.
Lit it. There was only one candle.
The Higher power showed up among them.
It gave as much Light as was needed.
The light was on for eight days!
Maccabees and Hellenes… are inside each of us.
The Hellene within us says that everything has to be rational, weighted, calculated. We must act in the way all people do. Socially acceptable.
And also, inside each of us, there is a little Maccabee.
A spark inside us.
The spark thanks to which we feel that the compliance with the principle given to us by Adam: “Love your neighbour as yourself” will be the only correct attitude to life.
But then, the huge Greek within us would cry:
“Wait a minute! It’s not realistic! It’s not possible!
We aren’t capable of it! It’s ridiculous!
How can I come to love my neighbour?
It’s not rational…”
Yes, the Maccabee within us isn’t rational.
Celebrating Hanukkah, we remember those Maccabees who, having united these tiny sparks in the heart of everyone, could attract the Great Light that represents the whole of nature.
And in honour of this Light,
In honour of those sparks of love inside us,
we light the Hanukkah candles…
to attract the force enabling us to beat our egoism,
Hellenes within us.
Happy Hanukkah to you!