The True Miracle of Chanukah
Yes, the central these of Hanukkah is light. More specifically, a very small, very pure light, that wields overwhelming power over darkness. It is the light of the menorah, itself a symbol of the power of the pure, no matter how small. And it is about the purity of Jewish faith, triumphant over the darkness of Hellenism.
From a military standpoint, we have to wonder how a ragtag group of guerilla forces evicted the mighty Hellenistic armies of the Seleucid Empire. This magnificent feat is clearly documented, and clearly a national salvation.
Further, when commemorating these days, I might expect that the focus of the holiday should indeed be that stunning victory. Why, then, is the miracle of the oil, which was in any event unnecessary and peripheral to the central miracle of the battle, put front and center in the Hanukkah commemoration?
I believe that the miracle of the oil does not replace or overshadow the miracle of the Maccabees, but rather explains it. There is no power like the power of faith and justice.
Historian Stephen Ambrose explains how the Allied soldiers differed from the Germans of World War Two. The German, he says, fought because he was commanded to do so. As a result, when he took a town, he had no compunctions about murder, rape and pillage. The American or British soldier, on the other hand, fought because freedom, liberty and human dignity were at stake. This had two effects: He fought an ethical war and treated those he captured lawfully (so as not to trample on his own beliefs), and he won the war through a pure motivation.
A soldier who believes in what he does is a better soldier. Contrast that to the American experience in Vietnam. It was, therefore, not surprising to hear stories of how WWII veterans called up to volunteer for active duty in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Their sense of purpose in war was aroused.
This is the secret of the Maccabee victory, and the secret of Jewish survival. Purity of faith, as symbolized by the petite but powerful candles of the menorah, can cast away an infinite darkness.