Song of Peace
My Mother’s Divine Plan
I call it the Driving Force and also the Divine Force. When it comes I have no choice but to follow it. It came the Friday morning before Mother’s Day. I was planning on spending the day with my mother in her rehab facility where she was recovering from a fall. But the Driving Force said, “Go Now! Do not go later as planned!!”
I was frantic as I was driving! When I arrived the ambulance was on its way. The paramedics asked “Which hospital?” I thought, “No wonder the Divine Force wanted me to get there! It was so I could pick the best hospital!”
In a short amount of time the two doctors came to me. My mother would die within a few hours without surgery! My brother was on speaker phone. “No,” we said! “Her heart doctor said no surgery! Find another way!” The two doctors were upset. “You want your mother to die? You want to put her in hospice?”
My brother and I wondered later why as two intelligent beings we didn’t stop and ask for more information, of what the consequences would be. We have made certain promises to our mother. But the emotions had taken over.
As they took her I knew I needed to stay centered, peaceful, pray. This is always my way. I was able to observe from within how my body was reacting, that I was shaking, freezing cold. I noticed how tears came when I finally reached my sister and husband.
As I sat in the waiting room, I wondered why I couldn’t connect to my spiritual healing gifts. They are second nature to me! All I could do was put on facebook and other groups to please pray for my mother! I asked G-d that all the prayers sent on her behalf would be used for her highest good. I spoke to my brother. We both were having doubts whether we made the right decision.
“The surgery went well,” the doctor told me. But late that evening we were losing my mother. The nurses said, “Tell your brother to come straight to the hospital from the airport. There isn’t much time.” At 12:00 p.m. we all gathered around and Rabbi David said the final prayers. The Divine Force was back. “Sing the Misheberach!” it said! Later my sister asked me why the healing prayer. “It was for the ultimate healing,” I told her.
Everyone was shocked when my mother opened her eyes in the morning. It wasn’t until the next day, Mother’s Day, that she could get some garbled words out. I wanted to follow her wishes. She managed to communicate that this is not what she wanted. But then clear as day, another voice came from her that said, “I knew I was dying. I had to come back.”
Later that afternoon she needed to have a nasal feeding tube to receive nutrients. “Absolutely not!” my siblings and I agreed! We decided to wait 24 hours for any decisions about hospice. Maybe there would be improvement tomorrow. The Driving Force came back late that evening. “Go back to the hospital immediately!!” I understood why when I saw my mother. She made her decision. No more treatment, no medications. I accepted this and was filled with gratitude to see the peace that came over her.
But with each day in my home, even off all her medications, my mother improved. She could now swallow, eat by herself and even move in the bed with help. Soon it became a party everyday with all the grandchildren traveling in to say goodbye!
After a week we moved my mother to her own apartment with an aide. She still has much ahead of her and is still off her medications. My brother and I have discussed that in honoring her wishes, if we had to do it over again we would make a different decision. But I keep on going back to that voice that came through, “I had to come back.” In the end the decision we made was in alignment with my mother's Divine Plan.
Rabbi David always says that when G-d told Abraham to go to a new land He used the famous words, “Trust Me.” That is all I can do right now. Trust in my mother’s Divine Plan, the one she has planned with G-d.
To all who offered your prayers, thank you! There have been so many miracles along the way. One thing I know without a doubt – your prayers have helped to bring them about!
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for continuing them…May they all be used in alignment with my mother's Divine Plan!
May 15th will mark the 70th anniversary of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. In Israel the actual Independence Day, Yom Ha-atz-maut is celebrated according to the Jewish calendar which is on the 5th day of the month of Iyar. This year it fell in the middle of April.
It is interesting to note the real meaning of the term "Independence Day. It marks the original date of a nation's independence. If an independent nation suddenly finds itself occupied by a foreign nation or several nations in succession and then finally frees itself, its independent day celebration would still be the original date before the occupation.
Therefore the celebration of Israel's independence day on Iyar 5 1948 is not accurate and in fact may be detrimental to the state of Israel. Claiming that Israel became independent in 1948 allows the Arabs and their many supporters to claim (as they have being doing) that the Jews had nothing to do with the holy land until they started illegally occupying it at the beginning of the 20th century. This is exactly why the Arab claim is that in 1948 Israel became an independent country for the first time ever on land not belonging to them.
The truth is that Israel was independent from the 12th century BCE to the 5th century BCE. It was then conquered by a foreign army only to be liberated in the 1st century BCE by the Maccabees. It was then occupied again by a long succession of foreign invaders including the Moslems, Ottomans (Turks) and the British.
It is also interesting to note that over these dark centuries there were several Jewish attempts to regain control over the land. These were naive messianic attempts and not military attempts. Because of the long history of independent living in the land of Israel the modern term Israel Independence Day is no doubt misleading.
It is my opinion that Israel's Independence Day should officially be named "Israel's Day of Regaining Independence.”
Yea, I know, it will never fly, but it is a thought...
May Israel continue to stand for Truth, Peace and Light.
We all understand the significance of Passover as the holiday of freedom. It is a freedom granted to our ancestors who were enslaved in Egypt through divine effort and sadly through much suffering of the Egyptians. Passover's profound message of freedom is of course universal. It speaks to the core of mankind’s basic instinct, the "yearning to be free." Although the holiday of Passover is a Jewish holiday, it also represents a universal appreciation of freedom everywhere.
When the Jewish people began celebrating this freedom festival the world was still very cruel and barbaric. It was only in 1776 with the American Declaration of Independence that both personal and national freedom was finally understood to be a natural right of all mankind. While the declaration was written 242 years ago, the world is still in the process of catching up to its message. Three thousand years after the event of Exodus there is still much oppression around the world. In many countries slavery or slavery conditions of workers as well as oppression of women and gay people still exist.
It is interesting to note that even in the ancient kingdom of Israel, while there was a concept of workers without pay for war captives or under certain circumstances for Hebrews, the fundamental human rights for this kind of workers were spelled out in the Torah and were strictly observed. They were treated as domestic help with decency and respect. The word "Eved" which is the Hebrew word for slave is a basic derivation from the word, worker, "Oved". That means that in ancient Israel the concept of slavery was much different then what the ancient world understood it to be.
The struggle for freedom as depicted in the story of exodus gained much significance not only in the African American community during centuries past but during the second world war as well, when a most incredible Jewish revolt against the Nazis took place in the Warsaw ghetto under impossible conditions We remember the small group of Jewish fighters led by 23 years old Mordechai Anielewiczw who held the mighty Nazi war machine back for three weeks and never gave up until there was no more pistols and Molotov cocktails left to fight with. This year on the first night of Passover we are commemorating the 75th year anniversary of what was an iconic symbol for heroic resistance to the Nazis throughout occupied Europe.
May they inspire us to love and protect freedom as much as they did.
Jewish people have been celebrating the holiday of Purim for about 2400 years. It is, as we all know, a fun holiday of parties, dressing in costumes eating hamantaschen and enjoying the day. It is a celebration in remembrance of the great salvation of the Jews of Persia who were under a great threat of annihilation only to be saved by the Jewish queen Ester and her Uncle Mordechai.
But the story of Purim has much deeper roots. It involves a very old and bitter political rivalry between two royal families. which goes all the way back to King Saul and King David some 3,100 years ago, way before the events of the story of Purim in Persia.
While all of the 12 tribes that inherited the land of Israel were considered one nation, there was friction between the ten tribes who lived in the center and northern part of Israel, known as the northern region tribes, and the two southern region tribes, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
King Saul, the first king of Israel, came from the tribe of Benjamin of the southern region. This created friction with the northern tribes who wanted the king of Israel to come the northern region. Nevertheless, King Saul in his wisdom was a unifying king who treated all the tribes fairly and therefore all of the tribes of Israel considered him their king.
However, things did not work well for King Saul. G-D explicitly ordered him to totally annihilate the Amalekite nation, man, woman and children and completely destroy all of their property. (Indeed, we do have some moral issues in the Bible.) King Saul granted "professional curtsey" to the Amalekite king, Agag, as well as his wife and did not kill them. He also allowed the people to take booty from the Amalekites’ possessions against G-D’s explicit instructions. In order to follow G-D's order, the Amalekite king, Agag, was eventually killed by the prophet Samuel. With King Agag’s death it was thought that this was the end to all living Amalekites.
But that was not the case. Our great sages explain that even prophet Samuel neglected to kill Agag's wife who happened to be pregnant . The Amalekite line therefore continued throughout the generations.
G-D was furious with King Saul. He took away the kingdom from him and gave it to King David who was from the tribe of Judea. The ten tribes considered the anointment of David to be a king as another insult since he too like King Saul came from the southern tribe region.
Unlike King Saul, King David and his son, King Solomon, had an ongoing animosity towards the northern region. They treated the northern tribe very unfairly. Among other things, they imposed heavy taxation, long military service as well as other national duties. That unfair treatment came about probably because the northern tribes refused to accept David as their king for seven years until they finely capitulated.
Fast forward centuries later to Persia where a large Jewish population had formed over centuries of exile.
King Saul's descendents never forgot the humiliation of tearing the kingdom from them and giving it to the house of David. They were hoping to regain back the respect of G-D and maybe even any future kingdom of Israel. At least part of the Jewish population in the Persian Diaspora who centuries earlier belonged to the ten northern tribes probably preferred the house of Saul as well since he was considered a national unifier as opposed to King David and his son King Solomon who held a grudge against them.
The major characters of the story of Purim which took place in Shushan, the capital of Persia, have a direct connection to the story of King David and King Saul. In fact Mordechai who was most likely the leader of the Jewish community in Shushan and Ester, the heroes of the story, were direct descendants of King Saul. It seems that the house of King Saul was still enjoying a leadership position among the Jews.
We know that because the narrative refers to Mordechai as "the son of Kish", referring to Kish, the father of King Saul who was also called "Saul, son of Kish." Obviously the narrative is making sure that we are aware of the connection between Mordechai and King Saul. The narrative refers to Haman as the Aggagite, making sure we understand that Haman is a direct descendent of Aggag the king of the Amalakites.
So now we see the story of Purim clearly. This is the second round of the conflict between the house of King Saul and the house of Agag the Amalekite. Mordechai knows that this time around the all the descended of the Amalekites must be killed in order to comply with G-D's order as well regaining the honor of the house of Saul. This is about an unfinished business that must be completed.
When Mordechai suggests to Queen Ester that G-D had made her the queen of Persia for a specific reason, this is the reason to which he is most likely referring.
But the story of Purim does have a twist at the end. While Haman and his ten sons were hanged, his wife and possibly daughters were not. So yet again the Amalekite line was not completely annihilated and may have continued through the wife who might have been pregnant at the time or through the daughters.
However it is interesting to note that from this point on Judaism takes a more philosophical approach to the line of the Amalekite. We consider every enemy of Israel who is trying to annihilate the Jewish people as an Aggagite, a descendent of the Amalekite king.
Haman and the rest of the cruel enemies who throughout the generations have tried to destroy us, are considered the manifestation of evil in the world. That evil is what we are trying to eradicate by spreading around the world the Light of G-D which dwells within each and every one of us, in order to make our world a better, more peaceful one.
May this holiday of Purim be joyful to all of us.
I first learned of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at 3:00 p.m. when my sister texted me. She was in lockdown at a nearby pre-school where she holds her music program. After checking the current situation (deaths weren’t being reported yet,) I immediately posted on social media and in healing groups I belong to asking for prayers for our entire area.
I already knew some parents wouldn’t be bringing their children to our Hebrew School later. As parents our instinct kicks in, we feel vulnerable and want to protect our children, keep them close to us during such times. I remember it well from 9-11. Even now I had the urge to call my own children even though they are adults.
Of the few children who did come to school, most of the older ones knew about the shooting. So of course we prayed and sent our Light to the entire situation. Just connecting to that Sacred Energy with the children was a balm for the shock I was still feeling.
Later as I worked individually with a child, I received another text that 17 had died. Although the shock was now back I somehow continued to finish working with the student. I then went into the next room to tell my husband. I planned to say “seventeen dead” in Hebrew so the children wouldn’t understand but I just couldn’t remember how to say “seventeen!” Instead I said “seventeen” in English and the word “dead” in Hebrew. One student immediately asked “Seventeen died?” I answered, “Yes.” The next question was, “Why?”
There were six children, 5th-7th graders, sitting around a table, now looking up at me, expectantly waiting for an answer. I froze. How do I answer them? Should I tell them what I know? This has always been my promise to G-d, to bring to my students the hidden spiritual teachings on a child’s level. My guidance took over and I began answering their questions.
We talked about how we never really die, only our bodies do. That all who died from the shooting are in a different form and are with G-d now. That when terrible things happen changes can be made, that all those who died sacrificed their lives for us. They didn’t know about it consciously but did on a deeper level, the soul level. But this still doesn’t erase the pain and grief that loved ones left on earth are feeling, that we are all feeling.
We talked about the shooter, of how people who act in such ways do not feel loved. We compared this to bullies not feeling loved, of how they feel alone. But even so this doesn’t mean we will allow their actions.
We discussed how it was when I grew up. Special needs and mentally ill children were isolated, bullies could do whatever they wanted, problems were hidden. We are now living in a time when all the hidden problems are being shown to us so we can make changes. G-d needs each of us in our own way to make these changes. For children it can mean speaking up even if scared, expressing feelings, being kind.
I am never ceased to be amazed by my students. As the children shared their own stories they once again showed me their innate understanding of who they really are.
A part of me wonders if the fifth grade girl would still have asked, “Seventeen died?” if I had said both words in Hebrew. But another part of me knows the answer for in the deepest workings of the universe, the children are here on earth to bring forth changes.
To all affected by this horrific tragedy, Rabbi David and I offer our deepest condolences. May we all receive healing, love and support as we move forward with the changes that need to be made to provide a safe and loving world for our children.
Is Tu B'Shvat a Minor Holiday?
I recently heard the argument that the Jewish holidays are divided into major holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Passover and minor holidays such as Chanukah and Tu B’Shvat. I beg to differ. I do not agree with this division. All our holidays have enormous importance and great reasons to be celebrated.
There is however one major difference between what many think as major holidays and what is considered "minor" holidays such as Chanukah and Tu B’Shvat.
Many Jews consider the Jewish holidays that were commanded in the Torah as major holidays or religious holidays and the one which were not of a Torah origin as minor holidays. However, some of the "Minor" holidays have in fact world wide importance.
Without the event that lead to the celebration of Chanukah, for example, and saving of the Jews from an almost certain and complete annihilation, there would be no western civilization as we know it. There would be no Christianity, no Islam and for that matter, no Judaism. The world would have been much different without the moral precepts of Judaism to guide humanity's ethical evolvement.
While Tu B’Shvat is an entirely different kind of "Minor" Holiday, it certainly has world wide implication as well. The Holiday of Tu B’shvat could be considered as the origin of world celebrations of nature and of Gaia, Arbor day. It is the ancient Jewish expression of appreciation of mother earth.- the first ever of its kind among western civilizations.
Tu B’Shvat is about the acknowledgment of nature's utmost importance to human survival. It recognizes the vulnerability of mother earth and the urgent need and obligation to take care of her.
Tu B’Shvat reminds us of the urgency of taking care of our planets by, among other things, drastically reducing pollution of all kinds, eliminating toxic emissions and toxic chemicals that do not disintegrate as well as stopping deforestation.
When we celebrate Tu B’Shvat we remind ourselves that our ancestors understood the value of healthy nature to our survival some 2500 years ago, at times when most of the nations were engaged in killing each other and caring for nature was totally foreign to them.
The holiday of Tu B’Shvat is therefore our acknowledgement of the importance of working together as united dwellers of our wonderful earth to maintain it, keeping it clean and healthy.
May we all work together to make it so....
All children are special. No question about it. But some highly evolved souls come to earth to work on their spiritual missions during their childhood years. With our Shirat Shalom children falling into this category, Rabbi David and I are honored to partner with G-d to provide these children with their religious/spiritual education. (This picture is one of our students who is now in high school.)
When we connect with one of these children outside of Shirat Shalom we know it is always for a reason and so it was with an adorable 8 year old girl we recently met in Key West. From Illinois, she and her two teen age sisters were there to participate in the destination wedding ceremony of her father and soon to be step mother.
Rabbi David and I really didn’t know anything about the girl but as soon as we saw her we recognized who she is and quietly exchanged knowing glances with each other using the secret language married couples develop. As we spent time with the family we continued to communicate silently, both of us so touched by the beautiful relationship between the step mother and this child.
It was quite important to the bridal couple that the three girls be included in the ceremony. There is a beautiful custom in Jewish weddings where the bride circles around the groom seven times merging their two souls and creating a new family circle. When the bridal couple asked if the girls could also circle along with the bride, Rabbi David answered, “What a wonderful idea!”
There is always so much Sacredness during a wedding ceremony. But somehow there was an additional dimension of Love during that circling that radiated out to everyone in attendance. I was busy singing so I couldn’t secretly communicate with Rabbi David at that point but I knew he was feeling it as much as I was.
Perhaps those who know this child well can give all sorts of explanations for her tears. But I know without a doubt that she was feeling the Divine Sacredness that was present. And this so touched my heart as it did many others! But that is the power of these special children and part of what they have come to earth to do. Open our hearts to bring healing.
I doubt I will ever meet this child again. But I will always carry the memory of her within my own heart. And so we will meet time and time again. Yes, that is the power of these special children!
Rabbi David and I have so much fun officiating weddings together as we always feel as though we are getting married again! And we figure that with close to 40 years of marriage we are bringing additional blessings to our wedding couples! (yes this picture is of us on our wedding day!)
But perhaps what I most love is the Sacred Energy of the Divine Feminine that can be felt when standing under the chuppah (canopy.) This Sacred Energy actually has a name. We call her Shekinah.
For this particular wedding Shekinah came much earlier than usual and caught me quite by surprise. It actually happened during the signing of the Ketubah (marriage contract) that takes place before the ceremony.
After everyone signed the Ketubah, the bride was given a gift, a beautiful plaque that contained a prayer called the Bride’s Tefillah, or Bride’s Prayer. It was translated from the Hebrew. As soon as the bride began reading this prayer out loud, I could feel the energy of Shekinah sweep into the room.
Although as a cantor, (singer of prayers) and as a Lightworker, I am very sensitive to the various energies of prayers somehow this still amazed me in that moment as I witnessed the Power of a Prayer. Of how Loved we are, that we are always answered when we call.
As the room was transformed by Shekinah’s presence, I looked to see how others were affected and caught Rabbi David’s eye. Yes, he felt it too. I wondered if Shekinah would now stay with us until the ceremony began but She quietly left after a few moments. But as She always does she came again under the canopy.
(This is an article that was published in VoyageMia Click here for link to article)
Today we’d like to introduce you to Lee and David Degani.
Lee and David, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Lee and David: If you had told us 25 years ago that we would soon become spiritual leaders of a congregation we would have laughed! That was definitely not part of the plan! But you know that saying…. In this case, it was, “Man and woman plan and God has the last laugh!”
The seeds for Shirat Shalom (Song of Peace) actually began with a class we formed for our second-grade daughter in 1994 to enhance her Jewish education. At first, we just worked with children who already belonged to a synagogue but within a couple of years, we began attracting families who weren’t affiliated.
Lee: I still remember so clearly the lightning flash that woke me up one night. It made me sit right up in the bed! The message was to begin a chavurah (a community) with the unaffiliated families of the children we teach! Ten families joined in the fall of 1998 and we began meeting once a month. We officially became Congregation Shirat Shalom the summer of 1999 with our mission to return to the spiritual and mystical roots of Judaism. Two years later I left my job and became the full-time Cantor and Director of Education. After another two years, David came on board as full-time Rabbi.
Lee and David: Thinking about those early days always brings smiles as we were so radical with our ideas! We were even nicknamed the Rebel Temple! For example, we welcomed interfaith families with open arms, parents had the choice of Hebrew School or a Tutoring Program for their children’s Jewish education and could enroll anytime. Our main focus would be our children. Hebrew School would only meet once a week and would be a fun experience! Remaining affordable was a priority so we never planned on having a building. Of course nineteen years later, these ideas are not so radical anymore and are more accepted
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Just like everyone else we were affected when the economy spiraled down in 2008. After all, people need to pay their mortgage before donating to their congregation! But we are grateful that we were able to get through those few years afterwards and are where we are today.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
Today, we continue to implement unique ideas such as our Online Tutoring Program and even traveling to conduct B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies for out of town or state families. This was initiated ten years ago after one of our families had moved out of state and asked if we would travel to conduct their child’s Bar Mitzvah service. We like to say “Have Torah, Will Travel!” Our Online Tutoring Program is so popular that most of our local students meet us online for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah lessons!
We actually have our own unique way of conducting B’nai Mitzvah services that makes everyone feel included and welcome. People will often say it is the warmest and most beautiful service they have ever attended. Perhaps it is because we have such a close connection with each child and family. And yes, Lee cries at every single ceremony!
Although more rabbis are now performing interfaith weddings we have been doing so for years. Whether it is for a Jewish couple or Interfaith couple, we design our wedding ceremonies with the understanding that we are merging first and foremost two loving souls who may come from different backgrounds. We always receive many compliments that people are so touched Cantor Lee’s beautiful voice and Rabbi David’s authenticity as well as his sense of humor! We ourselves have actually been married 39 years. Each time we conduct a wedding ceremony we feel as though we are getting married again!
Perhaps we are most known for our emphasis on bringing spirituality and the Kabbalistic teachings to our congregants in a way that is easy to understand. For years we have been holding meditation and healing circles and Lee also offers private energy healing sessions. In our Hebrew School, we teach Jewish meditation on a child’s level. We ourselves are blessed and honored to be channels of God’s Divine Light whether we are leading a service, teaching or during a life cycle event.
We have always had a saying that Shirat Shalom leads and we follow. And it has led us to our most unique and radical idea, the Infinite Child Program – Our Crown Jewel Spiritual Training for children of all faiths. But before we tell you what it is about, here is how it came about…
Lee: It actually began with a prayer. As any longtime teacher knows, children learn much differently these days. Although I have always been able to help children become successful who have difficulty learning to read Hebrew, I have even been stumped with some of the children the last couple of years. So I prayed, “Please God, help me help these children!” And the answer came…
David and Lee: The Infinite Child program teaches children focusing and mindfulness techniques while they are wearing a blindfold. As a result not only are children having an easier time learning and reading Hebrew (as one student put it, “it was magic when I had to practice for my Bat Mitzvah the next day!”) but they are also improving in secular school subjects as well as having transformative changes socially and emotionally!
Just to prepare you, the next sentence may be initially difficult to fathom…With training, the children are actually able to see and read while wearing the blindfold. It seems we all have the ability to use our third eye, our Infinite Light Vision. It is just that we were never taught or encouraged to use this sacred gift.
As people learn of our Infinite Child program we receive reactions from utter amazement to total disbelief! We so understand for each time a child reads blindfolded and experiences transformations we too are amazed. Can it really be true? But it is!
We feel so blessed to add this radical new idea to our other ones. Perhaps one day, just like the others, it too won’t seem so radical…
Do you feel our city is a good place for businesses like yours? If someone was just starting out, would you recommend them starting out here?We are living in a time when more and more people are looking for answers and are being drawn to spiritual teachings. Whether it is through Judaism, another religion or spirituality in general, we feel South Florida is a prime area for spiritual seekers. If someone truly feels the calling to be a spiritual leader the universe will lead the way. In the end, we all have the same foundation and that is Love. And as we bring more Love into the world, well, the possibilities are unlimited! Even a World of Peace is possible…
Chanukah by Rabbi David
Chanukah is celebrated on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. The story of Chanukah which took place in the second century BCE, 2200 years ago, is about a Jewish rebellion against the Greek oppressors.
While it is a common belief that originally this rebellion was about the restoration of national independence, it was actually ignited due to religious oppression. At the time of the Maccabee revolt, Greek culture was sweeping through the entire Middle East and beyond, courtesy of Alexander the Great who had established Greek culture everywhere he conquered. The center of his Greek influence was Alexandria, the city he founded in Egypt which bears his name. The Greek influence on the Jews was profound and reached the most conservative circles. In fact, many of our sages in the Mishnah and Talmud, the Jewish masterpiece of legal debates, laws and amendments, had Greek names. Even the leader of the Jewish rebels is better known by his Greek name Mattithias.
Some of the Jewish population was more influenced by the Greek culture then others. This Jewish segment was called Hellenists. The Hellenists were completely immersed in Greek culture. While they were not interested in worshipping Greek idols, they found themselves partaking in Greek idol rituals as part of Greek cultural events in which they participated. This balance between their Jewish monotheistic religion and the Greek culture was fragile. As long as the Greek occupier was not restricting Jewish religious practices, peace was kept in the land. In the second century BCE a ruler by the name of Antiochus changed this delicate balance. He decided that for the safety of his empire and as a means of unification, the Greek religion should be the only one allowed.
In Judea, the reaction to this new policy was mixed. The hardcore Hellenists, of course, accepted it and were willing to forsake the Jewish religion. This segment of the population was fairly large. Although all Jewish religious activities were forbidden including circumcision, Torah study and celebration of Shabbat or any holiday, most of the people were hoping that this policy was only temporary. Most of the people therefore, had a passive attitude and were not willing to fight for their religious freedom.
The Maccabees were a family who lived in a small Judean town called Modiin. The patriarch of the family, Mattithias understood that the Jews were facing dire times. He realized that if nothing would be done, the Hellenists would quickly convert and become Greek. The rest of the population, in the absence of any Jewish life whatsoever would eventually do the same. He and his five sons went from village to village to try to gather an army of rebels, although initially they managed to gather very few people. The group ran to the mountains of the Judean desert and started a raiding campaign against Jewish villages. They forced many of the farmers to join them, threatening to destroy their homes. This tactic worked well. Within a few months the Maccabees had a small untrained army.
Judah, one of the sons who became the leader of the renegades, used a nightly hit- and run tactic against Greek army posts throughout Judea. The rebels gained more experience and their fighting skills improved. As they began to gain more respect from the Judeans, their “recruiting” tactic became unnecessary since many more joined them with the belief that independence from the Greek was actually possible.
Over the course of this three year war, Antiochus brought in huge armies. At times he threw into the war everything and everyone he had. His armies were well trained and well equipped. Judah, however, was a smart tactician . Right from the start he avoided face to face battles and kept raiding the Greek reinforcement units at night, setting their camps on fire. The Macabees quickly became very popular and were joined by a multitude of men.
The holiday of Chanukah is the celebration of Judah’s first face to face major victory which resulted in freeing the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. The cleaning and the spiritual cleansing of the Temple was a major task. This is because the Greeks had turned the holy Temple into a pagan temple. The Temple was filled with filth, Greek statues with pigs and other animals running loose .
In order to complete the cleansing process and rededicate the Temple, the seven branched golden Eternal Light had to be lit. The special purified oil used for that purpose was not available. However, a small oil container was found in the high priest’s chamber. This container had enough oil to last for one day. According to our sages a miracle happened and the oil lasted for eight days until a new batch of oil was ready. This of course is the official reason for the eight days of Chanukah celebration.
After the rededication of the Temple, the Maccabees continued their struggle to free the entire country as the three year war spread from Judea to the Galilee. The number of men in the Judean army was no match to the multitude of Greek reinforcement troops that kept coming to face the Maccabees. The rebels had to split their far inferior army into several fronts. Four of the five brothers eventually died in battle. Brother Simon, the only one left, eventually formed the independent Maccabean kingdom which lasted for about seventy years until it was taken over by the Roman army in the year 66 BCE.
It is also interesting to note that while the Maccabees had a clear victory in Jerusalem After years of fighting with no end in sight, the Greek emperor needed his armies for other urgent “missions” elsewhere. He withdrew from the entire Judean territory and in fact, signed an agreement with the Maccabees. .
As we celebrate Chanukah this year and the determination of the Maccabees, may we rededicate ourselves to bringing the LIght of MIracles into our lives! All is possible...
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