Special address to IDF Soldiers by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Benzion Meir Hai Uziel
(translated from the Hebrew original by Rabbi Daniel Bouskila)
Imagine what it was like celebrating the first-ever Hanukkah in the modern-day State of Israel. December 1948. The State of Israel is a mere 7 months old, fresh out of a very long and difficult War of Independence that claimed 6,500 lives, one percent of Israel’s population at the time. The heroes who defended Israel in her earliest hours after declaration can be seen as the modern-day Maccabees. They were the men and women of the newly established Israel Defense Forces, something that had not existed since, well, the Maccabees.
Sephardic Chief Rabbi Benzion Meir Hai Uziel was so moved by the idea of celebrating Hanukkah in the newly independent Israel, and he had nothing but gratitude for Israel’s modern-day Maccabees. What follows below is his address to a gathering of IDF soldiers in December 1948, the first Hanukkah of the State of Israel.
This year marks the first time that we are celebrating Hanukkah and lighting Hanukkah candles in memory of the Maccabean victories – past and present — with such a unique feeling of freedom and redemption.
Back in the days of the Maccabees, as well as today, we experienced the rise of tremendous enemies who outnumbered us, whose goal was to uproot us from our land and wipe out our hope for redemption. 2500 years ago, and again today, our people, and all the nations of the world, have witnessed the miraculous wonder (stated in the Hanukkah prayer), that with great compassion, “God stood by (our soldiers) in the time of their distress, championed their cause, judged their claim, avenged their wrong, delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the arrogant into those who were engaged in the study of Torah.”
Praised be you, our mighty soldiers and heroes, who armed yourselves with faith and heroism, and renewed with splendor the acts of the ancient Maccabees. Praised be our sacred fallen heroes, who fell in defense of this recent war of redemption, who with their blood redeemed our land and our inheritance. May their memories forever be a blessing, and may their souls be bound up in the bond of eternal life, together with all of our nation’s righteous souls and heroes from all past generations.
This year’s Hanukkah marks a double celebration, where we have blended the memories of of our past with the great vision of our independence today. This year, the Hanukkah candles illuminate our souls and inspire us to come closer to God and the Torah, here in our liberated Land of Israel. This year, the Hanukkah candles inspire us to continue redeeming our Holy Land and our sacred City of Jerusalem, where together we will one day light the pure flames of the Menorah in our Holy Temple.
To you, our heroic soldiers, I say hizku v’Imtzu – may you be blessed with strength and with courage. Be strengthened, and through you and your heroism the whole House of Israel will be strengthened, to continue marching ahead with bravery and courage, with hope and with faith, all in the spirit of our sacred path. May we see the day when God will help rid us of all enemies, so that we may be illuminated by the bright flames of eternal redemption for our land and our sacred sites, when together we will give thanks to God, Halleluyah.