I’ve been thinking about the news out of Israel this week—specifically the UN resolution on Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech yesterday—in the context of the celebration of Chanukkah.
The story of Chanukkah, in some broad ways, mirrors the story of the Jewish people’s return to the Land of Israel in the 20th century. More than two millennia ago, against overwhelming odds, our people found its way back to sovereignty over the land where we came into being. The rededication of the Temple in the Chanukkah story symbolizes our right to live freely and openly as Jews, without fear of violence and oppression. In the aftermath of the victory of the Hasmoneans, a new state for the Jewish people came into being—called Judea back then—and our destiny as a people was once again in our own hands.
This is also the story of the rebirth of the modern State of Israel. A beleaguered people, tired and wounded from centuries of wandering, and reeling from a nearly successful systematic attempt to eliminate us through genocide, found its way back to the land of our birth and once again took root there. The modern-day State of Israel offers us the promise and hope, once again, that our destiny is in our own hands.
Chanukkah teaches us not only that our destiny is in our own hands, but that we need inspired and great leaders to help us fulfill that destiny. While some Jews, relying on their faith, urged that their fate be left in God’s hands, the Maccabees were determined to act to secure their freedom. We may derive our shared values from the Torah and our tradition, but it is up to us and our leaders to make good decisions and to act based on those values.
Whatever the impact may be (or perceived to be) of last week’s resolution of the United Nations Security Council, and whatever implications there may be of Secretary Kerry’s speech, this much is clear to me: Peace, reconciliation and an end to the conflict with the Palestinians won’t happen unless and until leaders on both sides step forward willing to make courageous decisions about the fate and destiny of both Israelis and Palestinians, and impress their people with the sensibility and thoughtfulness of those decisions. History has shown us that no progress has ever been made in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of outside intervention. Israelis and Palestinians must take destiny into their own hands.
In this week’s Haftarah, the prophet Zechariah, speaking to Jewish exiles in Babylonia on the verge of returning to Israel to begin the arduous process of rebuilding the Temple, famously declares: “Not by might and not by power but by spirit alone shall all people live in peace.” His words were intended to assure his people that they need not fear the future because God would care for them. We might understand Zechariah’s words as saying that reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians will not be achieved through harsh res0lutions imposed by outsiders who think they know what’s best for Israel and her neighbors. Only through a true commitment to reconciliation that is articulated by our leaders and inspires people will we all live in peace.
I wish you a Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Sameach, a happy and fulfilling Chanukkah celebration.
Note: Please set aside Wednesday, February 1 at 7:45 PM for an important presentation by Moshe Levi, Community Shaliach for the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey, entitled From Gush Emunim to Amona: The Story and History of the Settler Movement.