There are a lot of important lessons to learn from the story of Chanukah: Heroism. Moral fortitude. Light over darkness. The role of miracles, both natural and supernatural, in our lives. The one that I’d like for us to focus on for a moment is the lesson to be thankful, even for the less-than-ideal.
Our appreciation of the Hasmonean victory over the Greeks can be colored by what we know to be a muted endorsement of the Maccabees by our Rabbis. After the Maccabees defeated the Greeks they installed themselves as monarchs. The Ramban notes that this is a direct violation of the pasuk from Parshat Vayechi that “the scepter shall not depart from Judah.” Jewish kings were supposed to emerge only from the tribe of Yehuda. The Hasmoneans were Kohanim (priests, from the tribe of Levi). The Ramban explains that the reason why the Hasmonean family ultimately disappeared is because they violated this rule.
Although it is legitimate to note and learn from the “mistake” of the Hasmoneans, I prefer to focus on the approach taken by the Rambam. In the Laws of Chanukah (3:1), Maimonides recounts the Chanukah story:
The Jews suffered great difficulties from the Greeks, for they oppressed them greatly until the God of our ancestors had mercy upon them, delivered them from their hand, and saved them. The sons of the Hasmoneans, the High Priests, overcame [them], slew them, and saved the Jews from their hand.
They appointed a king from the priests, and sovereignty returned to Israel for more than 200 years, until the destruction of the Second Temple.
In the last line, the Rambam notes the critique of the Ramban: the Hasmoneans overstepped their role by appointing themselves kings. However, in the very same breath/line, Rambam makes sure to note that due to the Hasmoneans, Jewish sovereignty was returned to the Land of Israel for over 200 years. There were a lot of problems in the Land of Israel under the Hasmonean kings for those two centuries. And still, Rambam urges us to see the gift of Jewish sovereignty, even when that sovereignty is far from perfect, even when that Jewish state has real flaws and problems. We sing Hallel every day of Chanukah in appreciation for an imperfect situation, but one from which we benefitted and need to acknowledge with thanks.
There are sometimes complaints and criticism directed towards our shul: about things that should happen that don’t; or about things that should have happened in a different/ better way. Many times the comments are legitimate and the ideas are good. We need to hear feedback in order to improve. But we also need to remember not to allow “the perfect” be the enemy of the “great.” We should appreciate what is great in our lives and in our shul, even when there is room for improvement. The Hasmonean Kingdom after the Chanukah story was far from perfect. And yet it was a point of pride and reason to celebrate. This Chanukah, let us celebrate all that is great in our lives, even when it is far from perfect. Let this be our perspective, which will enable us to improve as an expression of pride and optimism.