Its Channukah, a holiday celebrating the triumph of the Jewish spirit over the repression of enemies. We might have been alive today without Channukah...but we would not have been Jews. The heroic commitment of men and women to maintain their yahadut in the face of persecution and at the risk of death is inspiring.
Who are these heroes...some we know by name; Yehuda of the sons of Mattityahu, his four brothers who we refer to as Hasmoneans. Yet whats amazing is that even as Channukah lives on as a Jewish holiday two thousand years after the events, and will according to our sages live on as a Jewish holiday into the messianic days and beyond, the heroes of Channukah have no personal presence in our world...and have been absent for near as long as the holiday they inspired exists.
The Talmud teaches us that "anyone who says s/he is from the family of the Hasmoneans must be a slave (non Jewish)." It tells us that the last of the distinguished lineage that inspired the revolt against the Syrio-Greeks committed suicide...and that occurred not much more than a hundred years after the Channukah victory. Moreover according to Megillat Antiyochut Yehuda died in the wars against Antiochus, as did his brother Eliezer. They never even got to celebrate the rededication of the Beit Hamikdash.
Channukah may be celebrated as a holiday for children, what with the gelt, presents, latkes etc.
But surely the story is not one of a happily ever after. Its a story of sacrifice and of tragedy...of national triumph yes but at the expense of individuals whose personal lives and legacies were lost forever. Just consider the power of the reality that no one can say today I am a descendant of the Hasmoneans...no one!
What Channukah says to me is that if I want to know the blessings of life in this world I need to attach myself to my people. As an individual, even if I have lived a life of goodness and sacrifice, I can have no expectations of health, life and continuity. I and all that I have created, including my heirs, can disappear in a flash. There is no family no matter how large or how wealthy that
can insure its survival. I may need to know my 'I' inorder to realize my tachlis. But it is in belonging and in knowing my self as part of the klal that I have a future and a hope.
Living with the Klal is the gift of living in Eretz Yisrael. Unlike the galut where one is forever conscious of his/her uniqueness and otherness...here in Eretz Yisrael one feels the sense of belonging. Here we live the destiny of the klal every day and it overshadows any personal story.
Here, while true it is Yehuda and the Hasmoneans sufferred personal tragedies, Channukah is the Yom Tov of hope, triumph and yes joy!
Chag Urim Samayach!