Hanukkah began last Friday night with the lighting of the first candle and the singing of Maoz Tzur--Rock of Ages. And busy though we were, trying to get out of the house for the Boychick's guitar class concert, we paused to remember Judah the Maccabee, who led Jewish guerilla warriors against the army of the the Tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes--who called himself god--and won. (The Maccabees called him Antiochus Epimanes--the fool, because only a fool would claim to be a god).
Tyranny is a system of government that not only wants to control your resources but also wants to assimilate you, to enslave not only your body, but your mind and soul as well. Thus Antiochus Epimanes wanted not only to steal the resources of the Jews, but he wanted to control their thoughts and beliefs; he wanted to control their every activity from what they said before they ate, what they ate, and how they bore and raised their children. Antiochus wanted not only to enslave a generation but to create generations that would think like slaves. Thus the Syrian-Greek Empire outlawed the study of Torah and the ritual of Brit Milah--the circumcision of Jewish sons. They forbade marriage, and defiled the mikdash katan--the little altar of the family table--by interfering in the education of the children and forcing Jews to sacrifice to pagan gods and to eat pork.
This was done in the name of perfect unity of the Seleucid Greek Empire.
Tyranny was not a new thing then, nor is it old and forgotten now.
All tyrants, ancient and modern, want the same thing: absolute power and control over the lives of the people. They want to create a matrix in which people will serve the interests of the empire without realizing the extent of their slavery. For this reason, tyrants across space and time have an interest in destroying the uniqueness of culture, the diversity of thought and belief, in order to impose one order upon their empires. Thus the attack on ritual and family and education. Thus the elevation of the state and its ritual over the hopes and dreams and desires of the individual. We see this in history with Antiochus, with Ceasar and the Roman emperors; we have seen it more recently with the fascist-collectivist states of Italy and Germany under Mussolini and Hitler, and with the socialist-collectivist states within the Soviet Union.
Historically, Jews, with our fierce requirement of identity and independence, have been enemies of them all, and the more recent of such states have known it and desired to destroy not only our culture and religion, but our very lives.
Currently, we see the same tyrannous desires arising in the name of world government by use of calls for perfect unity and comformity in order to save the planet from climate change, in order to impose equity and the redistribution of wealth. These are new excuses for the same envious quest for power and control of free minds. And despite protests to the contrary, the advocates of this new world order, are already moving to wipe out the diversity of identity and belief through control of ritual and the family and education. And they are moving to destroy the foundation of individual liberty upon which all independent thought and action rests. They are doing so , as they always have, by appealing to people to sacrifice their individual rights to the collective in the name of an undefined "greater good."
This call for world government is no secret conspiracy. It has been openly discussed for over 100 years, and most recently is being openly called for as part of the Copenhagen Climate Treaty. Ridiculing it as a "conspiracy theory" is designed to shut down opposition, but does nothing to change the reality that ever since Alexander the Great, there have been people who want to rule the world.
And speaking of Alexander the Great, the Seleucids were heirs to one of the three generals who inherited his empire. And each of the three set about setting up their own tyrannies in order to redistribute the wealth of the nations they conquered to themselves. They did it in the name of unity and glory and sacrifice. That works.
What the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epimanes did not count on was the fiercely independent spirit of Mattiyahu the Priest, of the small town of Modi'in, and his sons Eliezer, Shimon, Yochannan and Yonatan, and Judah Maccabee.
As was true of many such a person, Mattiyahu tried to go along to get along, subverting the Seleucid new world order quietly for as long as he could. But as happens with such men, there came the day of the last straw when Mattiyahu said the Hebrew eqivalent of: "No. Thus far and no further will I go." And he began the rebellion that became a war against an empire. And after three long years and the deaths of Mattiyahu and many of his sons, the war was won. A band of rag-tag but determined rebels against a mighty king and his empire.
That empire has gone the way of all empires now. As have many after it, from the glory and oppression of Rome to the "thousand-year Reich."
But the spiritual children of the Maccabees remain.
Children of the Maccabbees, whether free or fettered.
Wake the echoes of the song, where you may be scattered.
Yours the message cheering, that the time is nearing,
That will see all men free,
That will see all men free,
(From Maoz Tzur--Rock of Ages)
The Children of the Maccabees understand that there is point past which a tyrant cannot push a free individual. The Children of the Maccabbees know that, when push comes to shove, a free people will rise up and throw off the yoke of tyranny. And they know that in every generation, there are those who will rise against us to enslave us and that such people must be fought. Now we fight to subvert of their intent to enslave us with our own free action. Now we fight their propaganda through the written word. And we pray that these will be sufficient.
But we know as Mattiyahu did that the free individual can only take so much before she arises to throw off the yoke of the tyrant.
And we know, as Judah the Maccabee knew, that free people at some point decide to die on their feet rather than live on their knees.
We remember Judah Maccabee.