Overcoming the Odds

Hanukkah menorah

When most people think about the holiday of Hanukkah (today is the 5th day out of 8), they think about the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days even though there was only enough for one. What oil, where, and when remains a mystery to a lot of people.

The story of the oil that is the basis for lighting a Hanukkah menorah is found in the Talmud and is considered a legend rather than historically verifiable fact. The story of the miracle was meant to help bring God into the picture, when from a historical standpoint the holiday celebrates an event in which God may not be readily apparent. At its heart Hanukkah is about a military victory.

Over 2000 years ago, there was a strong Hellenizing (Greek) influence in the Jewish world and the Land of Israel. There was a great deal of assimilation to the point that a statue of a Greek god was placed in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This was too much for traditionalists who formed an army–the Maccabees; they fought the Assyrian Greeks and defeated them, even though the Maccabees were outnumbered and outpowered. This allowed the followers of the Jews to purify and rededicate the Temple; they also rooted out the Greek influence that had become so prevalent. The original Temple built by Solomon was dedicated over an eight-day celebration, which is why Hanukkah (which means dedication) was also an eight-day festival; the story of the oil is just icing on the cake really.

What does all of this have to do with fitness? After all, this is a fitness blog. Although Hanukkah is really about religious freedom and autonomy, it is also about our ability to overcome great odds when we set our minds to it. This is true in fitness as well. When I was 40, I never would have thought about running a half-marathon, but when I was 51 I did it. Of course, it took a lot of training, but it also took a change in my way of thinking. I began to consider not my limitations, but rather about the possibilities. I cannot help but think that the Maccabees did the same thing; they could have looked at the overwhelming forces of the opposing army and simply given up, but instead they fought with valor and tenacity until they were victorious. Jews today owe our existence to their grit and determination.

Hanukkah is a known as a festival of miracles. The miracle of the oil is a legend; what seems miraculous is the way in which the Maccabees overcame the odds. We are no less capable today of creating miracles in our own lives–whether it has to do with our education, our relationships, or fitness. We can overcome the obstacles (most of which we put in front of ourselves) and make miracles happen.

Will We Fight the Evil Influences Around Us?

Menorah

Why is this Hanukkah different than all other Hanukkahs?

While many people around us think that Hanukkah is all about oil that should have only lasted for one day but lasted for eight, we know that there is much more to this holiday.  It is a celebration of the Maccabee’s defeat of the Syrians.  More than just a military victory, Hanukkah recognizes the miraculous efforts of our ancestors to keep Judaism alive in the face of growing Greek influence.  Hanukkah is really about the miracle of Jewish survival and thriving throughout the millennia.

We now live at a time when we face threats as individual Jews and as a community that are unprecedented in this country.  It seems that every day there is another news story about attacks on Jews or Jewish institutions; in the last few days we have seen a deadly shooting at a Kosher supermarket in New Jersey, an assault of a Jewish woman on a New York subway, vandalization of a synagogue in California, and the desecration of cemeteries and the American Jewish University.What should be our response?  Throughout the centuries Jews have always been ready to move, to head to the next place that would take us in after our adopted homelands became too dangerous.  Are we there yet?  Is it time for us to pick up and leave?  Or do we look to the Maccabees as an example and come together to battle the forces that would seek to destroy us?

We cannot wait any longer.  On this Hanukkah, as a community we must confront the very real threats that exist.  This year, it’s not just about the menorah, the latkes, and the jelly donuts; it is about what we will do to ensure a thriving Jewish future.  May the Maccabees inspire us to fight for what is right; our very lives depend on it.