#423 (s5766-12/ 27 Kislev 5766)

Chanukah in the American Revolution

General George Washington and the menorah of inspiration.

Chanukah in the American Revolution

It was December 1777, when the American forces under General George Washington were awaiting the famous battle at Valley Forge. The future president was deeply concerned about the welfare of his troops. The bitter cold and the poor provisions with which his soldiers of the revolutionary army had been provided did not bode well for the outcome of the critical battle that awaited them.

Wrapped in his officer's cape and clapping his three- cornered hat down hard on his head against the chilling wind, Washington went out to see at firsthand how his men were faring. As he went from tent to tent, he saw the men dressed in rags and huddling around small fires, trying to get together a meal of something hot. As he went on, he suddenly encountered a single soldier, bent over a small metal apparatus in which he had lit a few very small, tallow candles.

Intrigued, Washington asked him what he was doing. Startled, the man jumped to his feet and saluted. Just at that moment, he had little expected to find his commander so near. But again Washington repeated his request: to understand why he had lit those little candles here, in the middle of nowhere.

The soldier, who of course was Jewish, began to unfold the age-old tale: of foreign Greeks who, upon conquering the holy land of Israel, had entered the Temple and had placed their idols in the most sacred place of worship. And he told how the valiant Maccabees, no longer able to bear the evil degrees forbidding the performance of Jewish ritual and the learning of Torah, rose up against their lords even though they greatly outnumbered them and were better armed - "Just like here, only more so, he interspersed." Nevertheless, through the grace of Heaven, they succeeded in removing them from their land.

And last of all the soldier explained how they purified the sanctuary and, finding only one container of oil which remained undefiled, they used it to light the Menorah. Yet miraculously that one container of oil, which should have been enough for only one day, instead lasted for eight -- until new oil could be made. And this, he told the general, is why he was lighting those little lights.

General Washington stood enthralled. He looked at the little flames, and at the face of the Jew. Then, he laid a firm hand on the man's shoulder. "You are a Jew," he exclaimed," "from the nation of prophets! I treat what you just said as a message from the Al-mighty Himself! With your little lights and your inspiring story, you have struck new courage in my troubled heart." The General shook the young soldier's hand, saluted, then turned to continue on his rounds.

What happened the next day is history: Washington's forces scored a victory over the British, and this proved to be the beginning of their total success. Eventually it led to the independence of the United States of America from England.

But what is less known is the following. That Jewish soldier survived the war and returned to his home in Boston. [another version: New York City, on Broome Street -ed.]
One evening, some two years later, he was sitting with his family around the dinner table when there was a knock at the door. He was astonished to see two very official-looking men standing there, but after a moment he recovered his poise and invited them in.

After introductions, one of the men stepped forward and took out a small box covered in velvet, from his inside coat pocket. With a cheerful smile, he handed it to the Jewish host, saying, "Here, take this. It is for you."

The veteran soldier looked from one face to the other for some sign of what was going on. Slowly he opened the box. It was plushly lined, setting off a brilliant gold medallion. On it was engraved picture of a Menorah with the words inscribed: "With admiration, from George Washington."
Ono of the visitors then handed him a letter from the first president himself. "This will explain everything," he said.

"My dear friend," was the salutation. "You don't know what you accomplished that night at Valley Forge. I couldn't sleep that night because I was sure that we had no chance of winning. We lacked ammunition. We were outnumbered ten to one. We didn't even have food or bedding for the soldiers. When I saw those boys lying asleep in the freezing cold under those thin blankets it took away my resolve.

"I made up my mind then and there… to surrender.
"But your lights and your words changed all that. If it wasn't for you and your Menorah, I don't know if we would be standing here today as free men. So we decided to present this medallion to you as a testimonial to that night, which was a turning point in our struggle for freedom."


Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from several Jewish and non-Jewish sources on the World Wide Web.



Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

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