In America, where Chanukah is often perceived as the “Jewish Christmas,” there’s a tendency to universalize the message of the holiday. You’ve probably heard Chanukah referred to as a victory for religious freedom, with the few (Maccabees) defeating the many (Syrian Hellenists). While it’s actually not quite that simple, there is a legitimately universal insight that we can draw from Chanukah: when leaders become distant, expect popular rebellion.
Chanukah was every bit as much of a civil war as it was a war of the Jews against a Syrian oppressor. The religious leadership in Jerusalem had become corrupt and violated essential tenets of Jewish faith. They had become elites, who believed themselves entitled to make any changes they desired. They no longer believed that they were accountable to God or to the people who had entrusted them with their spiritual well being. They became oblivious to the reality on the ground.
Does this story sound familiar? It does seem to be universal today. The global “Occupy” protest movement is just one modern manifestation. Social protests against the recent Russian elections are another. The fighting between the Egyptian military and civilians, and the brutal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in Syria against a people that is no longer willing to accept authoritarian rule are yet other dark examples.
But these modern day rebellions have a new feature that did not exist in the time of the Maccabees. Today, when leaders act corruptly or brutally, their actions are likely to be quickly broadcast worldwide via social media networks. Social media contribute to transparency in leadership, increasing the likelihood of protest when leaders stray from their responsibilities. If you’re in a position of leadership, Chanukah offers a perfect opportunity to reflect on how close or distant you are to the people that you are entrusted to lead.