When we talk about the miracle of Hanukkah in our prayers, we mention that God gave "the many into the hands of the few." It's important to understand that this isn't just a reference to the Greeks who were more powerful and numerous than the Jews who were fighting them. Being Jewish during the time of the Hanukkah story wasn't just unpopular among the Greeks; it was also unpopular within the Jewish nation.
When the Greeks brought their culture to Jerusalem, many Jews embraced it. These Jews were called Hellenists, or mityavim, from the Hebrew word yavan which means "Greece." These Jews sought to convince the other Jews to abandon the Bible and their way of life in favor of the Greek way of living. They were so passionate about this change in values that they even went so far as to murder the High Priest who was faithful to the Lord and to make trouble for those Jews who chose to remain loyal to God.
When we say that it was difficult to live openly as a Jew while the Hanukkah events evolved, we aren't just speaking about outside pressure to conform, but also the same kind of pressure from within the Jewish community.
The revolt against the Greeks began in earnest when Mattityahu, the leader of the rebellion, decided to take a stand. He borrowed words from Moses that were originally uttered after the people sinned when they constructed the golden calf. Moses was looking for anyone still loyal to God despite the nation's sin, and so he pleaded: "Whoever is for the LORD, come to me." Thousands of years later, Mattityahu issued the same call, and the small group of Jews who stepped forward were the ones who launched the revolt that changed history. They called themselves the Maccabees.
This idea of going against the crowd for the sake of what is right is one of the most important themes of Hanukkah. Every year we are reminded that what is right isn't always popular and that what's popular isn't always right. We are encouraged by the Maccabees who had the inner strength to stand up for what was right and were ultimately successful.
As we light one candle on the first night of Hanukkah, it seems that the flame stands in defiance to the darkness. It dares to banish the darkness. But as the days pass, other candles are added and other homes light candles, too. What started as one brave candle turns into many lights that brighten the night.
We also need to be like those candles, shining in the darkness and standing up for what's right, no matter how unpopular it might be. Ultimately, the truth will shine brightly. It only takes one person to kindle that first light. Maybe that person is you!
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is the founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which now raises more than $140 million per year, mostly from Christians, to assist Israel and the Jewish people. Since its founding, The Fellowship has raised more than $1.4 billion for this work. The organization has offices in Jerusalem, Chicago, Toronto, and Seoul.