by Stewart Weiss
As the sounds of battle intensified and the fighting drew near, he retreated to a dark corner of the massive building.  He knew that his minutes were numbered and time was of the essence.

From inside his robe he carefully drew out a small glass flask wrapped in cloth.  Kneeling, he removed a wooden board from the floor and gingerly placed the flask in the space beneath the floor.  Replacing the board, he covered the spot with earth, rubbed it in well so no one could see where the precious jar had been hidden.  He closed his eyes and uttered a prayer, and went off to his fate.

Who was he?  His name remains undiscovered to this day.  But the "unknown Kohen" who secreted that one precious jar of pure oil for the ner tamid, the Eternal Flame, was clearly a man of faith,  and of hope.  Though the situation was grim - the enemy
would soon overrun the Temple and terrorize Judea's citizens - the Kohen went to his death believing that the Jewish People
would ultimately persevere, regain their sanctuary, and rekindle the golden Menorah with the oil he had prepared.

In a sense, we have traveled back in time more than two millennia, to a time and place where we are again at risk, again under seige.  Voices of optimism and hope are in short supply, and pessimism rules the day. 

We face a despicable enemy, ready to sacrifice his life and that of his family to kill as many Jews as possible.  Our economy
teeters as our water supply dwindles.  Abroad, Jews have become a favorite target, from Marseilles to Mombasa.

At home we see few shining lights to inspire or encourage us.  Our leaders, bearing recycled ideas and tired slogans, prepare for
yet another election campaign featuring the same lack of unity and absence of direction.

On the Left, Labor's Amram Mitzna elicits enthusiasm from no one save Yasser Arafat, who has become a de facto member of his campaign staff.  On the Right, Sharon and Netanyahu duke it out to see who's ego will reign supreme.

AS AN observant Jew I have also felt the almost total lack of comfort and support from the religious establishment.  Chief Rabbi Lau, in particular, has been a dismal disappointment and failure in this post.  Rather than soothe the embattled nation with uplifting, spiritual words, he has virtually disappeared from sight, popping up only rarely for a photo op with some foreign
clergy, or at an official ceremony where he remains inaccessible to the public at large.  His voice, which could have healed us remains inexcusably mute.

It is precisely against this somber backdrop that Hanukka cast its light and message.  For Hanukka reminds us that - no matter
how gloomy the forecast may appear - the light of the Jewish People will shine on. 

Though we faced daunting odds vis-a-vis our Syrian-Greek antagonists, though we suffered from a deep intra-Jewish schism  between Hellenists and Traditionalists, we yet managed to expel the invaders and return to our former glory.

Thus has the pattern repeated itself many times in our history.  We were mired in slavery, with no foreseeable way out of the Egyptian morass, yet we were liberated "with hand held high."  We saw our Temples destroyed, yet we outlasted those cruel civilizations to rise anew.  We traversed the portals of hell into which the Nazis threw us, and we emerged - burned, but still breathing - to raise up a nation and build a new land.  Darkness, time and again, gave way to the dawn.

I have no doubt that we shall prevail in our current struggle as well.  We may - G-d forbid - have to do it alone, as the Maccabees did; we will certainly add to the tragically long list of martyrs who paid the ultimate price.  But prevail we will, I am certain.

Hanukka, the holiday of winter, when the days are short and the nights long, ushers in a long period when no major festivals
appear on our calendar until the spring.  Yet it is specifically Hanukka that provides the torch to lead us through the darkness.

In that little flask of oil, so lovingly hidden by the believing Kohen, there is light and there is hope and there is faith that the
Eternal Flame of the Jewish People will never, ever be extinguished.

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana. 
The Jerusalem Post, November 30, 2002
From Darkness to Dawn, by Stewart Weiss
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