Is Chanukah the holyday of the Freedom of Religion, which is often said? The answer maybe is a reluctant Yes and a is a clear No!
Of course I do admit that when I state clearly and publicly that that the Menorah announces a message of tolerance, religious freedom, or even better Free Speech, that I will get a lot of goodwill.
However this message is in fact contrary to the essence of Chanukah.
It is historically correct to state that the Hellenistic Regime did not allow the Jews to live according to their own Jewish laws and manners. It is correct to state that a small group of Maccabees waged war against the Greek regime and simply refused to comply with the Hellenistic way of life, which stressed the bodily aspect of their and everybody’s else lifestyle. So far it is true that we celebrate during Chanukah that the Jews reconquered their Freedom of Religion.
But it is not correct at all to broaden the Freedom of Religion, which was conquered by the Maccabees, to a universal and global freedom of thinking.
Freedom has its confinements and limits, just as democracy should have. If democracy is going to be abused to eliminate dissidents and dissenters, if freedom means that respect for humankind is not legitimate anymore, if there grows a view that Man is equal to G’d and allows him the right to judge on life and death, we are not talking anymore of freedom the Maccabees struggled for. The freedom of Religion has limits and just because of that, it is real freedom.
When we look at the menorah, we not only see the history of those days, together with our modern societal projections. It is not a torch burning in the Menorah, but there are small and fragile little lights. These lights witness of individual man with all his emotions, next to Big History.
A boy of 24, looking out of the window of a train, shouts : “Daddy, look! the trees are lagging behind, because we are much faster!” The father looks at his son full of visible joy and a warm smile. A couple, sitting in the same compartment of the train reacts amazed to the response of the father. They do not understand that the father smiles at the childish remark, but conclude that the grownup son suffers from a severe psychic disorder. Somewhat later the son exclaims agitated : “Look Dad, the clouds in the air are just as fast as our train!”
The couple cannot stay calm anymore and says: “Sir , your son and his health are of course not our business, but would it not be wise to take him to doctor, preferably a psychiatrist?”
“Many thanks for your advice, My sons just back for the hospital where he got a complicated treatment. Not by a psychiatrist, but by a neurologist. You think that he shows abnormal and deviant behaviour. However you have to know that my son was blind from his birth on. Today is the first day ever, that he can see! For me this a unspeakable wonder!
The couple was moved to tears and dumbfounded and at the ashamed about their false and insulting remark.
Every human being has a little flame. Each flame is unique. Each flame has also its own history. We place the menorah in the window, when it is dark outside. We see only the light, even when the oil and the wick are hardly visible. We do not know where the light comes from, we cannot and are allowed to judge it.
However at the same time, according to Jewish Law, if the flame comes from a smelly source we are not allowed to lighten the menorah by means of it.
If the radiance of fellow men, even if he spreads light, is coming from a impure source we cannot kindle the Menorah. But is the source is pure, and we cannot see the wick and the oil and their history is unknown we cannot judge them.
Let this be the lesson of the light of the menorah, also in 5777!
Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs