Menorahs and Masculinity: Finding Common Ground in the Story of Judah Maccabee

by | featured, Masculinity, Mindsets

Many may be surprised to learn that my family and I, despite being non-Jewish, celebrate Hanukkah each year. 

How come?

Well, in a word – freedom!

I find Hanukkah to be an epic tale and inspiration for the freedom and way I want to live as a man and how I want my family, present and future, to show up in the world.

If you’re not familiar with the history of Hanukkah, allow me to recount the history behind this festival.

Far more than dreidels and chocolate coins

In a bygone era, Judea found itself entangled in the grip of King Antiochus IV, a ruler who sought to impose Hellenistic customs upon the Jewish people. His aspirations to homogenize the diverse cultures under his dominion met fervent resistance from a group of determined rebels known as the Maccabees, led by the indomitable Judah Maccabee, a figure later revered as “The Hammer of God.”

The initial spark that ignited the Maccabean revolt occurred in the village of Modiin when a Greek official named Heliodorus arrived, demanding that the Jews make offerings to foreign gods. Mattathias, a priest of steadfast conviction and the father of Judah, refused to comply and, in an act of defiance, struck down Heliodorus and a fellow Jew who was willing to acquiesce to the sacrilegious demand. This bold stance against religious coercion became the catalyst for a rebellion against the Seleucid oppression.

As the Maccabees retreated to the hills, their ranks swelled with those who yearned for religious freedom. The odds were daunting – a small band of rebels facing the mighty Seleucid army. Yet, amidst this disparity, Judah Maccabee emerged as a charismatic and strategic leader, earning the moniker “The Hammer of God.” If you enjoyed Maximus Decimus in the epic movie Gladiator, you’d have loved this guy. He was a badass man!

The conflict unfolded as a series of guerrilla warfare engagements, with Judah employing tactical brilliance to outmaneuver the larger and better-equipped Seleucid forces. If you’re an 80s kid like me, this is about as close as it gets to a real-life “Red Dawn.”

Despite being vastly outnumbered, the Maccabees achieved unexpected victories, proving that courage and cunning could triumph over sheer might.

In the midst of their struggle, a formidable adversary arose – Nicanor, a general in the Seleucid army. Frustrated by the resilience of the Maccabees, Nicanor issued grave threats, vowing to annihilate Judah and his followers. This intensification of hostilities set the stage for a pivotal confrontation.

The turning point came with the liberation of Jerusalem in 164 BCE. Against all odds, the Maccabees reclaimed the sacred city, marking a profound moment in their quest for religious and cultural autonomy. The joyous cries of the liberated people echoed through the streets, a testament to the Maccabees’ triumph over oppression.

Amidst these victories, the Maccabees sought to rededicate the desecrated Temple in Jerusalem. However, a daunting challenge emerged – the sacred menorah, central to their religious practices, required untainted oil to burn continuously. The available supply was sufficient for only one day, and the purification process required eight days. Miraculously, the meager amount of oil burned for eight days, a divine intervention that solidified the Maccabees’ belief in their cause.

The narrative takes a dramatic turn with the introduction of Nicanor, who, fueled by frustration and a desire for vengeance, intensified the Seleucid campaign against the Maccabees. Nicanor’s threats against Judah and his followers cast shadows over their hard-fought victories.

The story’s climax unfolded in a decisive battle between the Maccabees and Nicanor’s forces. Despite the odds stacked against them, the Maccabees, under the strategic leadership of Judah, outsmarted Nicanor and emerged victorious. The defeat of Nicanor became a symbol of the Maccabees’ resilience against overwhelming adversity.

These events, culminating in the Maccabean triumphs and the miracle of the oil, laid the foundation for the celebration we now know as Hanukkah. The festival, observed annually, commemorates the dedication of the Temple and the enduring light that symbolizes the Maccabees’ unwavering commitment to their faith and the pursuit of freedom.

The Maccabean revolt is a tale of defiance against religious persecution, strategic brilliance in the face of overwhelming odds, and the enduring spirit of a people fighting for their right to practice their faith. The story of Judah Maccabee, “The Hammer of God,” and the Maccabean revolt resonates through the ages as a testament to the indomitable human spirit and the quest for freedom and identity.

How Hanukkah inspires me as a man

Despite not being Jewish nor particularly religious, I find a lot to appreciate in this story, especially characteristics and virtues that I believe the world needs more of, especially among men.


The Maccabees are a great example of living with personal and societal boundaries. They knew how to say and act out their value system. They said “No!” when society pushed on their value system, and “Yes!” to being and expressing their authentic selves. 


The story is one of resisting homogeneity and learning to be authentic and true in the face of extreme adversity, including the threat of death. I find this kind of dedication to being authentic and living with integrity to be the common characteristic of men (and women) I meet who are living a full, vigorous life and marriage.

I desire the authenticity of The Maccabees.


The Maccabees portrayed tremendous courage, not the absence of fear but acting with integrity in the face of fear.

I desire to live with the courage of The Maccabees.


It’s easy to get caught up in chasing perfection and comfort and misunderstand that abundant life isn’t found in a lack of struggle but in resiliency in the face of adversity. Resiliency is all about how fast and consistently we “return to our original place.” when something moves us away from it.

The Maccabees exhibited tremendous resiliency, digging deep and finding a way to hang on to themselves, stay true, and prevail against adversity.

I desire to live with the resilience of The Maccabees.

Strategic Brilliance

Judah Maccabee’s tactical genius and strategic brilliance in guerrilla warfare showcased adaptability and clever military maneuvering. I believe the world needs strategic brilliance today, not predominately in the form of military strategy and warfare, but in addressing the deepest social, environmental, financial, economic, and political challenges we face today. 

I desire to live with the strategic brilliance of The Maccabees.


You may be surprised to see me list defiance as a virtue, yet I believe defiance in the face of evil and darkness is indeed virtuous.

The Maccabees embodied what I’d call a “virtuous defiance,” of a kind needed to keep evil and darkness at bay.

This kind of defiance brings to mind the famous Irish Statesman Edmund Burke, who once said:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
— Edmund Burke

I desire to live with the virtuous defiance of The Maccabees.


In the face of scarcity and challenges, particularly with the oil for the menorah, the Maccabees exhibited resourcefulness, finding solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. Further, the cost of defying any oppressive regime includes the scarcity of resources under the control and administration of such a regime.

The world is not short on insurmountable challenges, and I believe the resourcefulness of the Maccebeans would serve us today.

I desire to live with the resourcefulness of The Maccabees.


The commitment of the Maccabees to their faith and cultural heritage, as exemplified in their quest for religious freedom, reflects profound devotion.

If you’ve read my writings or watched my videos, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of devotion. Most men seek loyalty, but to me, that is too low a bar. Loyalty is a great virtue – a steadfast allegiance or faithfulness to a person, group, or cause, often driven by a sense of duty or obligation.

Yet devotion entails a deep and enthusiastic dedication marked by passion, love, and a genuine emotional connection. While loyalty can be contractual or obligatory, devotion tends to involve a more profound, heartfelt commitment. Devotion requires heart, and life from the heart is better than life from obligation.

I desire to live with the devotion of The Maccabees.


The Maccabean revolt brought together individuals from diverse backgrounds, fostering unity among those who shared a common desire for freedom. It also proved that unity is not created or maintained by becoming homogenous and predictable. Those things were actually a threat to the distinction and personhood of people and cultures alike.

In my brief life on this earth, I’ve witnessed, and continue to witness, a withering sense of unity in the world, particularly the societal fabric of the United States where I live. We need a Maccabean level of loyalty, and the path to achieving it won’t be sameness but accepting our distinctions and embracing the latent power in our diversities.

I desire to live with the unity of The Maccabees.

Defeat of Hubris

The defeat of Nicanor serves as a lesson against the arrogance and hubris of those who underestimate the strength and determination of others. 

In my life, I’ve witnessed an increasing measure of hubris among people who believe themselves to be entitled to define and lord over the rest of society. We must vigilantly guard against such forces and oppose them as powerfully as Mattathias and his sons opposed the Seluecids.

Unfortunately, I’ve also lived in seasons of personal hubris and found that they required defeat before life could be peaceful and prosperous, particularly in marriage.

I desire to live with defeat over hubris like The Maccabees.

Triumph of Light over Darkness

The miraculous duration of the oil burning symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness, representing hope and perseverance.

Every human soul will encounter moments of life that invite them to yield to darkness, within and without, that invite us into unhelpful, ineffective, and unproductive ways of living.

I encounter so many souls who are living in despair, despondency, hopelessness, fear, anxiety, insecurity, shame, bitterness, rage, and hostility. 

These conditions of the heart and mind require light! Lots of light!

I desire to live with a defeat over the triumph of light over the darkness of The Maccabees.


The enduring impact of the Maccabean revolt created a lasting legacy, inspiring generations to uphold virtues of courage, resilience, and cultural identity.

The Maccabees were gravely threatened with annihilation, eradication, and genocide, yet here we are, approximately 2,187 years later, celebrating the light and its triumph over darkness.

That’s legacy!

I desire to live with the legacy of The Maccabees.


As a non-Jew, my family and I celebrate Hanukkah as a tradition and as a wellspring of inspiration derived from the extraordinary tale of the Maccabean revolt.

The Maccabees, led by Judah Maccabee, embody timeless virtues – resilience, courage, strategic brilliance, and virtuous defiance against oppression. Their commitment to authenticity, cultural identity, and their forged unity offers enduring lessons for living a purposeful life.

In a world often demanding conformity, the Maccabees’ resourcefulness, devotion to faith, and the defeat of hubris are profound teachings. As a man, I draw inspiration from their legacy – a legacy of triumph over darkness, a commitment to cultural identity, and the enduring light of hope. I aspire to live with the same virtues that defined the Maccabean spirit, leaving an indelible mark on history and illuminating the path for those seeking purpose, resilience, and the triumph of light over darkness.

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Sven Masterson

Sven Masterson

I wake up daily ready to guide men. Specifically, those exhausted from their pursuit of trying to achieve and perform their way to having more value, worth, and significance. I'm passionate to help a man who... - can't bear to look at himself in the mirror for the contempt he feels for himself despite his efforts and achievements. - who everyone else thinks is great, except himself.  - who feels his providing is never enough, his dedication is never enough, and no matter how much better he gets at life, he still feels miserable.
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