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    Chanukah – the unlikely festival

    Probably no one could have predicted the festival of Chanukah.

    You could predict Pesach; slaves eventually become free, and sooner or later there would have been an Exodus. One could have predicted Shavu’ot; a people that gains its freedom cannot manage for long without a constitution and charter.

    But one might have thought that Chanukah would never have been needed. After all, King Antiochus was a pagan, and paganism is by nature tolerant; it deems one person’s god as good as another’s.

    Why then did Antiochus try so hard to eradicate Judaism, and in the process make Chanukah necessary? Because an “anything goes” laissez-faire policy is not really as democratic as it seems. No, says Judaism, it is democracy gone mad. If one god is as good as another then all are nothing, and Judaism cannot cope with this. The Jewish view is that there can be only one valid God, and He must be unique.

    Judaism also cannot cope with an ethic in which right and wrong are matters of opinion and you can basically invent any standards you like; it insists that civilisation cannot survive without eternal, immutable moral principles.

    It cannot cope with a lifestyle in which holiness or hedonism are equally legitimate; the only valid way, in the Jewish point of view, is that of holiness and decency.

    It cannot cope with the thought that all ideas are as good as one another, or all days are the same as each other, or all foods are equally acceptable.

    That is why Mattathias had no choice but to raise the Hasmonean banner of revolt against Antiochus, and to proclaim, “Whoever is on the Lord’s side, come to me!”

    Not that an act of moral courage like this will always make you popular. But Rav Soloveitchik says that there are two types of heroism – a strong person who does mighty deeds, and a person who even without much physical strength or stamina is prepared to do what others regard as absurd and inexpedient: to stand up for principle.

    But this, in turn, must be done judiciously and carefully, without ever humiliating or ridiculing the other person’s point of view. You may be right that you are right, but the way to handle disagreement is with respect for the human dignity of the other person and the ability to try to persuade logically and never squash or, God forbid, physically threaten anyone else. People who differ should be capable of creative engagement with derech eretz and dignity.

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