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Tzvi Schectman
BY Tzvi Schectman

7 Ways a Child with Special Needs is Like the Maccabees

Today marks the first night of Chanukah (also pronounced Hanukkah), an eight-day festival of light that commemorates the triumph of light over darkness.

More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews called the Maccabees defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G-d.

After thinking about the heroic actions of the Maccabees, I thought there quite a few similarities between the Maccabees and a child with special needs.

Check them out and feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments below:

1. Corruption vs. Innocence

The Maccabees:
In the Holy Temple, the High Priest was a holy and revered figure. The Greeks started accepting bribes to place their cronies in the position of the High Priest. When the Maccabees found out what the Greeks were doing they revolted. The Maccabees knew right from wrong and refused to be complacent and look the other way.

The Child with Special Needs:
A child with special needs is the classic example of innocence. Right and wrong is clearly defined with very little grey in between. One example of their innocence is the ability to say what they think with no filter. See more examples of a child’s innocence here.

2. Think Different

The Maccabees:
When the Maccabees revolted, they knew they would have to fight differently. The Maccabees were a group numbering in the hundreds with limited weapons and no battle experience or training. They were going up against a Greek force numbering over 40,000 battle-tested soldiers armed with the most advanced weaponry at the time. The Maccabees know that a traditional head on battle would not work and used their small force and limited means to their advantage. This nimble force was able to move quickly through rough terrain and surprise the Greek army at every step they took. They had no choice but to think and act differently.

The Child with Special Needs:
A child with special needs is born with different tools in his or her toolbox. They may also have considerably fewer tools than the typical child. Just like the Maccabees, that does not stop them from being successful. They may have bigger challenges, They may need to learn and do things differently, but ultimately they have the capability to live a happy, successful and fulfilling life.

3. Extreme Motivation

The Maccabees:
One of the reasons the Greek forces, as large and powerful as they were, were unable to quell the Maccabean revolt was due to motivation. The Greek soldiers did not have much at stake. To them, it was another war in a lifetime full of wars. Their country was not in jeopardy and their way of life was not going to be affected. On the flip side, the Maccabees were in a fight for their physical and spiritual lives. They knew that if they lost, the Jewish way of life in the land of Israel would be destroyed. The fate of the Jewish nation hung in the balance. Hence, there was extreme motivation to the extent of sacrificing their lives in an effort to win the war against the Greeks.

The Child with Special Needs:
For a typical child, many of the skills acquired are taken for granted. Walking, talking, reading, writing and other skills are developed thanks to the help of parents and teachers. For a child with special needs, nothing comes easy. In many ways, a child with special needs is born with their backs against the wall. The challenges are greater, the fear of failure is prevalent. Just like the Maccabees parents of children with special needs (and the child himself) are extra motivated to succeed because there are no other options.

4. Celebrate the Small Victories

The Maccabees:
The Maccabees could have crawled out of their caves, taken one look at the thousands of soldiers thundering towards them put up the white flag and said “game over, we give up.” Thankfully they didn’t do that. The Maccabees didn’t bite off more than they could swallow. By focusing on winning one small battle at a time, they were able to gain strength and instill fear in the Greek enemy. By winning many small victories, they were ultimately able to celebrate winning a war they should not have won.

The Child with Special Needs:
If you look at all the challenges facing a child with special needs, you may get the feeling that this is a mountain you can’t climb. Instead, focus on one challenge, one small battle at a time. When you are successful with a challenge (however small it may seem) celebrate the victory and prepare yourself for the next battle. Each victory will give you the confidence to move the next challenge and the bigger battle. Before you know it your child will be moving from making eye contact to tying their own shoelaces and even bigger and better things.

5. Social Disobedience

The Maccabees:
When the Maccabees finally defeated the Greeks, they came to rededicate the Holy Temple and found it in shambles. As a symbol of light overcoming dark, they wanted to light the Menorah as quickly as possible. Upon finding the Temple ransacked most people would have given up, went home and waited for the salvage crew to tidy things up before they went looking for the oil to light the Menorah. Instead, the Maccabees did not conform to what society would do and went hunting for some oil to light the menorah.

The Child with Special Needs:
Sometimes parents of children with special needs have to ignore what society thinks is best for their child and do what they know is best for their child. Ignore the dirty looks and carry on caring for your child as only you know how to do.

6. Miracles Do Happen

The Maccabees:
So the Maccabees did the unexpected and started hunting for oil immediately (see #5 above). Amazingly, they were able to find one small, uncontaminated jar of oil. Unfortunately, that jar of oil was only going to last for one day (it would take 8 days to produce new oil and have it transported to the Temple). The Maccabees decided to light that one jar of oil and miraculously it lasted for 8 days. So… what if the Maccabees decided to take it easy and not search for oil, or if they found the oil and decided not to light it, would we still have a miracle? The Maccabees made the vessel, they did the work, and G-d took care of the rest.

The Child with Special Needs:
Yes, even today miracles do happen. Put some faith in your child’s ability (and G-d’s), work with your child, give him or her the chance to thrive and you will see amazing things happen.

7. Our Heroes

The Maccabees:
The Maccabees stood up for what they believed in. They took initiative and revolted, won a war, found oil and lit the menorah. They transformed a nation and overcame darkness and materiality to bring light and spirituality back to Israel. They were true heroes.

The Child with Special Needs:
The definition of the word hero is: “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities”. The child with special needs shows us what innocence truly is, they show us what someone with a pure and special soul looks like. Their achievements are second to none and they are leaders by example with their noble qualities. They very clearly are heroes!

* As I am sure the first question of many will be why is G-d not spelled in full please note that this is a sign of respect. You can read more about spelling G-d’s name here.

Tzvi Schectman

Written on December 7, 2015 by:

Tzvi Schectman is the Family Coordinator for the Friendship Circle of Michigan and the Editor of the the Friendship Circle Blog. You can connect with Tzvi on LinkedIn and Google+
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