Defiling the Pure: 1/6/21 In Light of Chanukah

Like many others I am surprised by how not surprised I was by the abhorrent events that transpired at the Capitol on January 6th. We all knew that Trump was never going to abdicate his throne easily. He orchestrated a seditious mob to use their white privilege to stop electoral process. They were not successful in having a coup, but they got much further that most of us could ever imagine. While they were defiling the hallowed halls of democracy it seemed that the experiment of this republic had come to an end. The assault on our government was not just just due to these terrorist or a “wannabe tin-pot dictator scared of losing power” (Thank you Senator Tammy Duckworth), but also the inept or complicit law enforcement.

A Bucks County Trump supporter posted about a 1776-style revolution during  Capitol riot. Then, he

Amidst chaos we strive to make sense of our reality. Sadly we as Jews have a long history of dealing with hatred in its many forms. I found myself this mourning stirred by Rambam’s unique language describing the historical events that lead to the institution of the holiday of Chanukah. There we read:

…they entered the Temple and broke through it, defiling the things that were pure. The people of Israel were sorely distressed by their enemies, who oppressed them ruthlessly until the God of our ancestors took pity, saved and rescued them from the hands of the tyrants. The Hasmonean great priests won victories, defeating the Syrian Greeks and saving Israel from their power. They set up a king from among the priests and Israel’s kingdom was restored for a period of more than two centuries, until the destruction of the second Temple. (Laws of Chanukah 3:1)

While I have to dilution that the Capitol is pure, the images still ring true. What is most telling is the in response to throwing off tyranny, they victorious priest run to have a king.

In a 2012 appearance in New Hampshire  former Supreme Court Justice David Souter made some striking and prescient remarks about the dangers of “civic ignorance”. This video has been circulating and worth seeing:

I was most struck when he said:

I don’t worry about our losing republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don’t worry about it because I think there is going to be a coup by the military as has happened in some of other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible. And when the problems get bad enough, as they might do, for example, with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown, some one person will come forward and say, ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’… That is how the Roman republic fell. Augustus became emperor, not because he arrested the Roman Senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.

We still do not know who was responsible for what transpired on January 6th. It was a total break down. In cleaning up, people need to held accountable. It is clear that our media is part of the reason that there are so many people who are ignorant of civics and distrustful of facts. Democracy is fragile and we are in peril. This is not a risk from the outside, but the inside. Like Augustus, with little regard for democratic norms and political institutions, others will come like Donald Trump seeking power, assuring the public that they will solve our problems. Exploiting the distrust of the media, fears and civic ignorance we have paved the way for another despot to come.

As the Hasmoneans had to do after the Greeks, we have a lot of work to do to clean up what has been defiled. But if there is anything else that can be learned for Democracy from Chanukah, it is the Rabbinic movement of the the Menorah in the Temple to the Chanukiah in the home. While the Capitol represents our democracy, it is not the limit of that ideal. As Churchill wisely said:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.… (House of Commons, 11 November 1947)

For our democracy to survive civics and decency needs to thrive in our homes. The power of democracy cannot come from without, but it needs to come from within. It comes from every citizen taking responsibility for themselves, their families, their communities, and the collective. The light from our homes keeps tyranny at bay.

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