A recounting and an accounting
As we approach Hanukkah, I shared with our Year 10 students the picture below and asked them: “Is the rifle becoming a hanukkiyah or the hanukkiyah becoming a rifle?”
This hanukkiyah, which can be seen in the Sydney Jewish Museum, item #M1999/051, is constructed of a rifle and spent shall cartridges.
Our discussion centred upon whether Jewish strength is defined or informed by military prowess or is military prowess delimited by or in the service of our Jewish strength.
The well-known Hanukkah song, by Debbie Friedman, Not by Might is based upon the words of the prophet Zecharyah, “Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit” which we read as part of the haftorah on Shabbat Hanukkah.
However, history has taught us that the words of the Psalmist, -ה׳ עוזי ”The Lord is my strength (uzi)” cannot always be a substitute for the uzi gun. The designer of the uzi gun had escaped Nazi Germany. His name was Uziel – “God is my strength”. (He did not want the gun to bear his name).
The idea of the miracle of oil was introduced by the Rabbis long after the Maccabean victories. They were concerned that the light and spirit of the Jewish tradition be usurped by notions of military might and grandeur. Upon the founding of the State of Israel, and in the shadow of the Holocaust, the renowned Hanukkah song Mi yemalel gevurot Yisrael,
“Who can recount the mighty acts of Israel?” was born. Little known today is that these words are a recasting of those of the Psalmist, Mi yemalel gevurot Adonai, “Who can recount the mighty acts of the Lord?”
When we light our hanukkiyah, may we pray in the words of the prophet Isaiah “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruninghooks, nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore”.
Chag urim sameach.