The Temple lay desecrated. There seemed to be no defense against the enemy; no hope. It seemed for a while like God had deserted his people. Never mind that Daniel had predicted this in precise detail. Never mind that he had promised this would not be the end. When one feels so utterly defeated it is hard to listen even to the prophet of God.
Then something strange, even miraculous, happened. A blow was struck against the enemy. Then more blows, until he was reeling. Out of the despair of ruin and desecration, victory became a possibility, then a certainty. The enemy was pushed back. Jerusalem was once again free. The Temple could be cleaned out, a new altar built. Beginning on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, and for seven days thereafter, the Temple was rededicated. God was worshipped openly again. The dedication was to become an annual celebration, for the next 300 years commonly called the Feast of Dedication. After that time it also became known as the Feast of Lights.
Chanukah can be seen as a parallel to human existence. Godís people are under attack. Those attacks from outside are minor compared to the assault by the real enemy. The devil may use external political or social forces to attack Godís people, but more often he realizes that those forces tend to strengthen the resolve of the believers. The real attacks come from his use of yetzer hara, the evil inclination. It is this inclination that Rabbi Saul so aptly describes.
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
The devil uses our own inclinations in his greatest attacks. He doesnít need external forces; he uses ourselves against ourselves. We become that desecrated Temple, our altars fouled by unclean sacrifices.
Nevertheless, there is hope. There is also the yetzer tov, the inclination toward good (or God) within us. We can choose to turn to God rather than the abuse of our own inclinations. We can turn to God for cleansing of our temple. As someone fittingly observed, sometimes our disappointment is His appointment. Our failures bring us to the feet of God. Our disappointment is Godís appointment to meet in prayer. David knew this full well. ďBut as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. Ö When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.Ē (Ps 73:2, 16-17) He ends that psalm, ďit is good for me to draw near to God.Ē
The gloom and despair that Godís people felt before that first Chanukah turned into a celebration of dedication. It would be easy to give in to the gloom of seeming defeat in our lives. Many people do. But God wants better for us. We can become a light to the world, a dedicated temple in service to the God we serve. Chanukah reminds us not to give up; not to give in. We can, with Godís help, clean out the filth and rededicate our lives. It has happened before.
Chanukah is December 9-16 in 2012.