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  ISRAEL    
 
 
  CHANUKAH  
 
MACCABI WORLD UNION, DESCRIPTION & IDEOLOGY, BY RABBI CARLOS A. TAPIERO Chanukah
By: Rabbi Carlos A. Tapiero, Carlos@maccabiworld.org
Deputy Director-General
Maccabi World Union, www.maccabiworld.org

RABBI CARLOS TAPIERO, MWU DEPUTY - DIRECTOR GENERAL & DIRECTOR OF EDUCATION

 

 

 

Tuesday, December 2, 2015
 גבורת המכבים ונס חנוכה
 
Dear friends,
 
Chanukah celebrates the triumphant saga of the Jewish people under the leadership of the Hasmonean family (the Maccabees), led by Matityahu Cohen (priest) ben Yochanan[1] and his 5 sons (Shimon, Yochanan, Yehuda, Elazar and Yonatan) against the greatest empire of his time - the Greek Empire - under the despotic leadership of Antiochus IV; an empire that defiled our Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and attempted to impose its hedonistic culture over the Jewish world view based on an ethic held by the mitzvot[2].
 
Our Sages[3] provided a different interpretation of the historical events in the Maccabean revolt which liberated our people from the Seleucid[4] yoke. During the week of Chanukah, they ordered the inclusion in our daily prayers and in the Birkat Hamazon[5] of an allusive reference to the Holiday that celebrates the military victory as a miracle. We read in our Sidurim[6]:
We thank You for the miraculous deeds and for the redemption and for the mighty deeds and the saving acts wrought by You, as well as for the wars which You waged for our ancestors in ancient days at this season. In the days of the Hasmonean Mattathias, son of Jochanan the High Priest, and his sons, when the iniquitous Greco-Syrian kingdom rose up against Your people Israel, to make them forget Your Torah and to turn them away from the ordinances of Your will, then You in your abundant mercy rose up for them in the time of their trouble, pled their cause, executed judgment, avenged their wrong, and delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and insolent ones into the hands of those occupied with Your Torah. Both unto Yourself did you make a great and holy name in Thy world, and unto Your people did You achieve a great deliverance and redemption. Whereupon your children entered the sanctuary of Your house, cleansed Your temple, purified Your sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courts, and appointed these eight days of Hanukkah in order to give thanks and praises unto Your holy name.

There is no historical doubt about the existence of Matityahu ben Yochanan Cohen and his 5 sons - the Maccabim - or of the liberation achieved by them, establishing a free reign in the Land of Israel which lasted from year 165 to 37 b.c.e. Why, then, our Sages describe this military achievement as a miracle - especially if we consider that Matityahu (166 b.c.e.), Elazar (164 b.c.e.) and Judah (161 b.c.e.) fell in the struggle for the liberation?

The answer to this question is based on the concept of co-participation between man and God, between the Jewish people and the God of Israel, and is integral to the theme of the miracles of Chanukah.

The great liberation war of the Maccabees was extremely costly from the human perspective. Many died in the battles for almost a decade, with extraordinary levels of human sacrifice and commitment to the future freedom of action and expression of the people of Israel. The war was undoubtedly successful - all the great Greek generals fell with their armies - Ptolemy, Nicanor, Gorgias, and the best of them all, Lisius - but the achievement of Jewish freedom required sacrifice and extraordinary effort. It was the decisive action of the Jewish people that led to the embarrassing withdrawal of the defeated Greco-Syrian troops.

Now: these were not just a series of battles against a powerful enemy. The issue really at stake was the spiritual survival of the Jewish People; Antiochus IV's assault on our liberties forbad the practice of Judaism (Brit-Milah, Sabbath and all basic mitzvot) and imposed the consumption of pork and the service to pagan gods. The Seleucids were also the greatest empire of the time. It was inconceivable that the small, weak and conquered people of Israel would defeat the greatest military power of its time... and yet they won. The enormous faith in the righteousness of their cause and the huge size of the threat to Jewish spiritual life led the Maccabees to a victory made possible only by a miracle. Returning to our initial question, only a miracle could secure such an achievement, such a victory. Our sages believed in the co-participation of our actions with the Divine: when our commitment is total, and Jewish existence in the deepest and complete sense - our nationhood - is in mortal danger, God will then join and support His people, "fighting their battles, defending their rights" as we read in our text prayers. It is the same feeling and belief we have in relationship to warfare in the modern State of Israel: How can we not describe, feel and believe as miraculous victories the War of Liberation in 1948, when 7 Arab countries with tens of millions of people attacked the 600,000 Jews of the Yishuv, or when what was advertised by those same Arab countries as the "Second Holocaust" ended in a crushing defeat - and a victory unthinkable for the tiny state of Israel - in the 1967 Six Days War?

The military victory of Chanukah celebrates a miracle: a miracle that emerged as a product of the Jewish people complete surrender to their cause, and God, accompanying their efforts, and securing the victory. As our prayer describes: "and unto Your people did You achieve a great deliverance and redemption."

May this Chanukah bring our Maccabi light to all of you, and the light of the Maccabees with their miraculously liberating victory.
  
Chanukah Sameach! 
Chazak Ve'ematz!
 
RABBI CARLOS TAPIERO
Deputy Director-General
Maccabi World Union

[1]His name is the acronym of MACCABI, that is the reason the Hasmonean family are also called "Maccabees" - Maccabim.
[2]The Jewish laws.
[3]According to Kalonymus ben Eleazar ben Judah of Worms, also called Elazar Rokeach, 1176 - 1238, Yohanan ben Matiatiahu himself was responsible for including this prayer - the same son who started the great liberation movement that led to his death in battle in 166b.c.e.
[4]The Seleucid kingdom - Greco-Syrian - was led by Antiochus Epiphanes ("The Shining"), it was one of the successive conquests of Alexander the Great in the Middle East (the other was the Ptolemy kingdom, based in Egypt).
[5]Blessing pronounced after the meals, when bread has been consumed.
[6]Prayer books.

 
   
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