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    The unknown warrior

    Writing about Chanukah, Morris Joseph said, “It is good for Jewish lads to include warriors of their own race in their galaxy of heroes”. Obviously what he had in mind was Judah and the Maccabean band, with all their subsequent incarnations down the centuries.

    However, with all that is said and written about the Maccabean exploits, it seems most strange that there is one person whose courage no-one thinks of, an unsung hero, an unknown warrior.

    Who is he? He is a kohen whose name the history books do not record. He is the kohen who, when the enemy was at the gates of the Temple, hell-bent on destroying the sanctuary, hid away a little jar of pure oil. It was his jar of oil with which, when the victory was assured, the Eternal Light was rekindled. It was his jar of oil from which the torch of Jewish freedom and hope was re-lit.

    His was an epic deed, as valiant in its way as the military deeds that repulsed the enemy. That kohen was a man of faith. There would come a day, he firmly believed, when the struggle would be over, when the light could be rekindled. He was a man of vision who took the long-term view, who provided for the future when most others thought only of the present. He simply could not imagine that the people of Israel and its faith and heritage would be annihilated.

    There is much that his example can teach us. Life brings us all our share of disappointment and defeat. There are times when we feel everything around is black. It is then that we should think of the unsung hero of Chanukah and find the hidden reserves to fight on, to live and persist.

    In Jewish life generally we may never have officially admitted what we owe to the unknown priestly hero, but our instinct has recognised his message. In every generation we have needed hidden resources to inspire us to determine that Judaism had to and would survive. When Maimonides’ thirteen principles were formulated with the introductory words, “I believe with perfect faith” – ani ma’amin – would anyone have thought that Jews would have needed to go into gas chambers singing, “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Mashi’ach“?

    But thanks to the Temple priest, we knew we had no option but to believe – even when belief was most difficult; to hope – even when despair seemed more natural; to hold onto Judaism – even when the temptation was to sell it for a mess of pottage. Unsung kohen, we salute you!

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