To the best of my knowledge, Christmas Eve coincides with erev Chanukah four times every one hundred years. This is one of them. Coincidence aside, I believe that there is much that we Jews can learn, as so many in this world celebrate a virgin birth, part and parcel of Immaculate Conception.
Christmas is a time for celebration. The “faithful, joyful and triumphant” are beckoned to Bethlehem. Mankind is exhorted to celebrate a miracle. Chanukah is also time for celebration. But the focus of Chanukah is not the celebration of a miraculous birth, but rather of a miraculous life. Modern day Modiin is a city of just under 100,000 located pretty much midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Two thousand years ago, Modiin was the hometown of the Maccabees. Thanks to their daring and heroic efforts, the Maccabees taught us what a miraculous life is all about. Time after time, the Maccabees not only went up against a Greek enemy, they went up against the odds. Chanukah has done a phenomenal job in inculcating in us the miracle of the oil as well as the miracle of the battle. Chanukah has yet to imbue us with the miracle of the lives led by Mattathias, the Kohen Gadol or High Priest, his five sons as well as their followers. It is their lives that we should be celebrating.
Joseph and Mary aside, Christmas centers itself around one individual. Christmas asks that we believe in the birth of one child who will one day bring salvation to this world. Chanukah also centers itself around one individual. Chanukah also asks that we believe. But rather than focus on a child, Judaism asks that each of us believes in our self. Judaism is a religion of defiance – in the very best sense of the word. Judaism maintains that heroes are not limited to Maccabee like warriors who go up against bigger, superior equipped and better trained armies. The greatest challenge warns Judaism is not to succumb to self-doubt or apathy or lethargy. These are the enemies that threaten us. Believing in our self enables us to work wonders as well as to and accomplish what we thought to be unbelievable. Chanukah challenges us to become modern day Maccabees. The Maccabees were victorious because they believed in themselves. If we truly wish to celebrate their victories, we can afford to do no less when it comes to believing in ourselves.
Peace on earth is predicated on mankind’s response to a heavenly act. Because of the miracle in the manger, mankind is charged with the responsibility of living as well as disseminating the teachings of the divine. It is a daunting task that requires a tremendous amount a dedication as well as an endless amount of work. Chanukah also sees the interconnection between miracles and hard work. Only Chanukah sees it in reverse order. If the Maccabees taught us anything, it’s that the hard work on our part impressed HaShem to such an extent that He wanted to participate as well. This explains the miraculous victory; this explains the miraculous oil. In both situations it was mankind, not HaShem who had to take the initiative.
Should it ever happen that you overhear someone saying that Chanukah is a Jewish Christmas, just smile knowing that in some respects they are diametric opposites of one another.