At this Hanukkah season, we honor the memories of the Maccabees, holding them up as inspiring examples of leaders who fought religious intolerance and the domination of the Jewish people by a foreign and oppressive regime.
The message of Hanukkah is not for Jews alone, but offers inspiration to all peoples who have suffered from bigotry, and the many who, even today, find that their rights as human beings are trampled upon, whether in this country or abroad.
Not only is the message of Hanukkah not only for the Jewish people, but the heroes of Hanukkah include many other “honorary” Maccabees whose words and deeds inspire others to remake the world with a foundation of freedom, respect, tolerance, and kindness.
Among those whose memory we should honor and follow is the late Vaclav Havel who died at this season eight years ago. He was dubbed a “Modern Day Maccabee” by those who recognized his accomplishments in promoting respect for human rights and for freeing his country from the oppression of a much larger military force. He was a playwright and poet, an activist and politician. He became the first president of the Czech Republic after the fall of communism. Among his greatest accomplishments was to co-author the United Nations Human Rights Charter, still a startling document, steeped in the most exalted values of our Bible, the Enlightenment, and in the ethical traditions of the world’s greatest philosophical and religious thinkers.
As the darkness in our world threatens to engulf and overwhelm us, as peoples around the globe languish under the weight of oppression, loss of home and livelihood, dislocation, political and religious intolerance we need to be inspired to seek to bring more Shalom, fairness, and justice to our world. We need reminders of our power to bring light to even the darkest corners of the globe. Here are some of Havel’s most famous quotes – may they bring light and inspiration to us as we seek to cast away the darkness around us.
Quotes from a Modern Day Maccabee – Vaclav Havel. I suggest that one be read on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah.
1. Work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.
2. Hope is a feeling that life and work have meaning. You either have it or you don’t, regardless of the state of the world that surrounds you.
3. Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.
4. I [We] really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions.
5. Anyone who takes himself too seriously always runs the risk of looking ridiculous; anyone who can consistently laugh at himself does not.
6. As soon as man began considering himself the source of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension, and man began to lose control of it.
7. The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.
8. There are times when we must sink to the bottom of our misery to understand truth, just as we must descend to the bottom of a well to see the stars in broad daylight.
Wishing you and yours a Happy Hanukkah, and may you be among those who bring more light and joy to our world.
Rabbi David Kudan
Rabbi David Kudan leads Temple Tiferet Shalom in Peabody.