It could be argued that Hannukah is the most sanitized of all the Jewish festivals. Perhaps, because of its usual juxtaposition to Christmas on the calendar it is seen as analogous to the Christian festival, with a focus on lights, gifts and goodwill.
While these are all nice elements of the festival, the real story of Hannukah is actually one we need to refocus on and internalize to understand our future.
The miracle of the oil lasting for eight days is not mentioned in many of our earlier sources about the festival. What was mentioned, however, was that in 168 BCE, the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the occupier and colonizer of the Land of Israel, outlawed Jewish practices, and desecrated the Jewish Temple with foreign worship and the sacrifice of pigs specifically to humiliate the Jews.
The Jewish response was to mount a revolt, the Maccabean revolt.
Through innovative military tactics and strategy, sheer bravery and a commitment to throw off foreign rule, the Maccabees won the war against the powerful Seleucid Empire.
As the prayer we insert into the Amida during Hannukah intones: “You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few.” It was an impressive victory and one praised by the authors of the liturgy.
In the same prayer, we are thankful “for the victories that you wrought for our ancestors in their days and in this day.”
This simple sentence demonstrates clearly that victory, a forcing of one’s enemy into submission and achieving one’s military aims is a positive goal in Judaism and Jewish history.
As Jews around the world intone these words over the festival, we must adopt the need to return victory to our lexicon. It is not just for our ancestors, during the days of the Hasmoneans or the generation of the War of Independence or Six Day War but for those “in this day”.
We must fight those who once again try and extinguish our presence in this land and defeat them.
This is why I am a full-throated supporter of the Israel Victory Project of the Middle East Forum, formulated by Professor Daniel Pipes, because it is a simple yet ancient concept, that has repeatedly been proven true throughout the millennia.
One does not negotiate with one’s enemies, one defeats them. Only when an enemy has been vanquished and defeated, its goals unachievable, is it possible to come to some agreement or accommodation, and not before.
In the modern era, we are told that the only way to achieve peace with our hostile neighbors is through negotiation and compromise, even though every chapter of modern history screams that this has proven to be false.
The victory concept is rejected by some because it speaks this cold hard truth, that many would not like to face.
It is not easy to defeat one’s enemy, especially for a generation constantly being fed the lie that peace with the Palestinians is around the corner. We are constantly being told that if only we gave up or conceded enough, our outstretched hand would be received with warmth, love and reciprocity.
This is just one more myth in the annals of Jewish history.
We need a return to the Maccabean victory mindset. Turning the other cheek to our oppressors was never our way, our way was the way of Judah HaMaccabee, to free our people and defeat the enemy, even if the odds are not in our favor.
There was a very good reason why these stories inspired the early Zionists, those who were outnumbered and had very little cause for optimism at ultimate victory.
Songs were created during the years before the reestablishment of sovereignty in the indigenous and ancestral Jewish homeland by those who used the story of Hannukah to inspire them. Odes like “The Lamp of the Maccabees” which spoke of the “glorious and gallant Maccabee”, and the “Candles Shine” declaring that “The enemy was routed and defeated, and we won our freedom.”
Previous generations knew the cost of victory, but they also understood the greater cost of defeat which they dared not visage.
Today, we do not think like this even though our enemies continue to aspire to our ultimate destruction. We dare not assume that because we are not at war, the conflict has ended.
We should use the Hannukah festival to reignite our passion for victory, because as Winston Churchill famously said: “Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.”
Happy Hannukah to all, the festival of victory.
Alex Nachumson is a retired IDF commander and CEO of Mivtachi Israel, an organization of former senior IDF Officers.