Hanuka is About Victory in a Bloody War, Not Just About Oil

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(This Original Essay is Copyrighted by Shelomo Alfassa - All Rights Reserved)

(Hanuka starts December 5, 2007 this year.)

While we know Hanuka is the holiday commemorating the rededication of the Beit HaMikdash (the holy Temple) in Jerusalem, after the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks, it is this latter portion that we often forget. It is critical to remember is that the Jews were in a state of war with the Syrian-Greeks, one that went on for several bloody years.

As Greek occupiers established themselves in Jerusalem, a large number of Jews began to embrace the Greek culture and its Hellenistic pagan way of life. During this period, the Greeks ravaged and defiled the Temple with pig blood as well as through other means. Altars were erected with statues of the Greek gods and goddesses in every city and town. The Greeks banned the Torah all together, any Torah scrolls that were located were shred or burned. Soldiers forced Jews to make offerings, to eat forbidden foods, and to engage in other immoral acts. Maimonides tells us that the Greek leaders outlawed Judaism, that Jewish women were attacked, that money belonging to the Jews was taken. They caused the Jews great anguish, until the God of our Fathers granted them mercy and delivered them from the hands of their enemies. The Greeks killed anyone observing Shabat, Rosh Hodesh, or who sought kasher food. In accordance with a decree by Antiochus, they put to death the women who had circumcised their children, hanging the newborn babies around their necks; they also put to death their families as well as those who had circumcised them.

Some Jews fled from the cities to the hills of Judea, forming themselves into bands of guerrilla fighters. They were faithful to Judaism and would not assimilate into Greek culture and idolatry. The fighting began in Modiin, a village north of Jerusalem. A Greek officer along with his soldiers assembled the villagers in Modiin, asking them to bow to an idol and eat the flesh of a pig. The officer asked Mattitiyahu, a kohen gadol (High Priest), to take part in this pagan ceremony. He refused, and another villager stepped forward and offered to do it instead. Mattitiyahu became outraged, took out his sword and killed the man, then killed the officer. His five sons and the other villagers then attacked and killed the soldiers. Mattitiyahu's family went into hiding in the nearby mountains, where many other Jews who wanted to fight against the Greeks joined them. They attacked the Greek soldiers whenever possible. About a year after the rebellion started, Mattathias died. Before his death, he put his son Yehuda Maccabee in charge of the growing army. After three long years of fighting, the Jews defeated the Greek army, despite having fewer men and weapons. Eventually, Yehuda and his fellow "Maccabees" captured Jerusalem, expelled the Hellenists and triumphed over the enemy.

After some time, the Jews were able to return to the Temple and purify the building of idols and other sacrilegious items. This is at the point when they located only one small sealed jar of oil, a vessel with only enough oil for one day to light the oil lamp, the Menorah that was in the Temple. The miracle--was that a small amount of oil was able to sustain the lights, to illuminate the Temple for eight days.

As Jews, we are taught to be humble, but we should never forget about our great warrior past, one that once included protecting Jerusalem and the Torah no matter how hard or long the sacrifice was.

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This page contains a single entry by Shelomo Alfassa published on November 17, 2007 11:44 PM.

Remembering Chief Rabbi Jacob Meir - On the Occasion of the 90th Anniversary of the Balfour Declaration was the previous entry in this blog.

The Holocaust Affected Jews in Arab Countries is the next entry in this blog.

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