(Remarks given at the closing ceremony for the Duluth Nelson Mandela Committee series of programs marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela. The event was held on Sunday, December 2, 2018 at St. Mark’s A.M.E. Church of Duluth)
Our celebration today of Nelson Mandela’s centenary year coincides with the approach of Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights that begins less than three hours from now.
In the second century before the Common Era, the Jewish people under the leadership of the Maccabees secured their freedom from a tyrannical regime and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem. They commemorated the victory with an eight-day celebration, a practice that continues to be observed by Jews around the world to this very day.
The Maccabees’ victory over the Seleucid dynasty was not accomplished without the use of physical force. But ultimately, the Jewish sages enacted that we would emphasize the spiritual component of this freedom struggle. And so we read in synagogue the message of the prophet Zechariah:
לֹ֤א בְחַ֨יִל֙ וְלֹ֣א בְכֹ֔חַ כִּ֣י אִם־בְּרוּחִ֔י אָמַ֖ר יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת
Lo bechayil, velo vekhoach, ki im beruchi amar Adonai Tzeva’ot
“’Not by might, and not by power, but by My spirit’ – says the Lord of Hosts.”
Similarly, the long struggle of the people of South Africa against the evil tyranny of the Apartheid regime was not achieved without acts of armed resistance. But, ultimately, it was the spiritual force of non-violent struggle led by Nelson Mandela that brought about the democratic society that exists there today.
In his inaugural celebration address in 1994, as President of a newly free South Africa, Nelson Mandela said:
“We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
May it be God’s will that Nelson Mandela’s legacy continue to be a model and an inspiration for all of us in the ongoing struggle to achieve freedom, dignity and justice for all peoples.
 Zechariah 4:6