What does it mean to be a hero? In the famous Hanukkah story, which we all know and love; the story of Judah Maccabbee and his family who fought and defeated the Syrian-Greeks and rededicated the Temple; the tiny little cruise of oil which was only supposed to last for one day but lasted for eight days; the piercing story of Hannah and her sons who died rather than profane the Holy Name of God; in that famous story, who was the hero? Who exhibited the most courage? Well, you could say that all of them were heroes, and to a degree you would be right.
Judah and his brothers showed physical bravery against the raw physical power of the opposing armies.
They fought well, they were brave and we remember them with affection and with pride.
It is perhaps no accident that when we Jews, be it in the State of Israel or the Diaspora, schedule Olympic-type events, they are almost always called the Maccabi Games or the Maccabiah.
We venerate the efforts shown by the Maccabees, and we honor them in this moving way.
Hannah and her sons were also heroes-the sons refused to renounce their religion and they were willing to die as martyrs in order to sanctify the Holy name of God, and Hannah stood and watched as each one was killed..
She could have told them to give in to the Romans, but she did not.
Our Tradition is filled with examples of those who chose to die as Jews rather than to live as apostates.
The Ten Rabbis who were executed by the Romans and those brave souls who died on Masada remind us always of the need to protect our Jewish identity, no matter what.
But my own personal choice for the Hero of Hanukkah is the priest who lit the menorah in the Temple KNOWING that there was only enough oil for one day.
He knew this oil had to last for eight days, because that is how many days earlier Temple Dedications had lasted.
He knew he did not have enough oil, and he lit anyway.
How could he do this? He had faith that somehow, in a way that even he did not know at that time, somehow a miracle would happen and there would be enough oil.
The easiest thing for him to have done would be not to light the menorah, and probably no one would have criticized him.
But he did not take the easy way out.
He had faith, he lit the menorah, and the miracle happened.
Miracles happen to those who invite them to happen.
In the time of the Maccabees, and in our own time as well.