Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Story Of Hanukah


Several of the members of Joshua's Army have requested some background on the story of Hanukkah. Here goes...

Hanukkah celebrates one of the important miracles in Jewish history and reminds us of the triumph of faith. It takes place every year in mid to late December. While its date varies if you go by the western calendar, in the Hebrew calendar Hanukkah always falls on the 25th day of Kislev.

Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish war for independence in the second century B.C. E. The story is told in the First Book of Maccabees, and retold in the Second Book of Maccabees. A contemporary military history of the war can be found in Battles of the Bible, coauthored by Chaim Herzog and Mordechai Gichon.

After his death, Alexander the Great's empire broke into several parts, and Israel was under the control of the Seleucid empire, based in Syria. Israel had lived peacefully under the Persian Empire and under the Ptolemic empire (of Egypt), both which tolerated Judaism; but the Seleucid Emperor Antiochus Epiphanes was an arrogant, bigoted Hellenizer, who attempted to force the Jews to abandon their religion and to adopt Greek customs and worship.

There were those Jews who considered themselves `modern' and `assimilated' who were willing to go along with this, even to the extent of having surgical operations to reverse circumcision.

Others did not, and they were prosecuted vigorously and brutalized by the Greeks.

The start of the Maccabean Revolt sprang from a single spontaneous act of resistance. In the foothills village of Modiin in 167BCE, a Greek army unit set up an altar, and ordered the local Jewish rabbi, Mattathias, to sacrifice a pig and eat it. He refused, as did his five sons. When a Jewish collaborator came forward to offer the sacrifice, a furious Mattathias "ran and killed him on the spot, killed the king's officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and tore down the altar" (1 Mac. 2:15-25).

Mattathias, his sons and their followers then headed for the Judean hills, to launch a guerilla war. They were farmers who had no military training,fighting a professional army. There had not been a Jewish army since Babylon had destroyed the Judean kingdom four centuries before. Their only weapons were farming tools and whatever simple weapons they could construct, such as maces or slings. During this first year, Mattathias died, and his middle son Judah took over command as his successor.

Nicknamed "the hammer" ("Maccabee," in Hebrew), Judah constructed a guerilla army that staged daring nighttime raids on the Greek outposts, then melted back into the countryside. His successes attracted more supporters, and the revolt spread.

The war went on for 25 years, one of the most singular wars for independence in history. The miracle, perhaps is that it was fought at all, let alone won.

The Seleucids and Antiochus sent huge, well equipped armies into Israel to subdue the Jews. They were all defeated, at odds that seem miraculous even today. Judah Maccabee turned out to be a tactical genius, using unheard of tactics, leading the Greek phalanxes into the hills where they could not maneuver and destroying them.

In 164 BCE, the Jews defeated a force comanded by the Viceroy Lysias that outnumbered them two to one. That battle took place six miles north of Hebron, near the Jewish fortress of Beth-zur. The victory allowed Judah and his army to retake Jerusalem.

When they entered Jerusalem, Judah and his followers entered the Holy Temple on the Temple Mount. The Temple had been wrecked and horribly desecrated, with profanities scrawled on the walls and the Ark by the Seleucids.

The Maccabees built a new altar. When the time came to light the N'er Tamid, the Eternal Light of the Temple, the Jews could find only one sanctified jar of oil marked with the seal of the High Priest. It was only enough to last one evening. On the 25th of Kislev, in the year 164 BCE,the lamp was lit with this small jar of oil and, miraculously, stayed lit for eight days, until more oil suitable for the temple was made. The eight days of Hanukkah celebrate that miracle, as well as the divine intervention that had led the Jews to amazing victories over well-equipped professional armies far superior in numbers. "Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wants and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place" (2 Mac. 10:7).

The war itself continued. In 160 BCE, near modern-day Ramallah, Judah was killed, but Judah's brother Jonathan, and then his brother Simon took command of the Jewish army, finally winning complete independence in 142 BCE. At last, "All the people sat under their own vines and fig trees, and there was none to make them afraid" (1 Mac. 14:12.).

Towards the end of the war, Antiochus and the Seleucids became so obsessed with defeating the Jews that they sacked their own cities and sold their own citizens into slavery to get money to pursue the war against the Jews.

The War of the Maccabees was the first war ever fought for religious freedom. Somehow, a group of farmers with no military training who refused to bow to their oppressors defeated a mighty empire and its immense standing armies. There seems to be no plausible explanation for the victory of the Jews except that it was a miracle.

Hannukah reminds us that with G-d's help, victory over evil is assured and no miracle is impossible. Modern Israel and the survival of the Jewish people against all odds are proof of that.


Symbols in Hanukkah

Aside from the Hanukkiah (candlesticks), the other great symbol of Hanukkah are those small spinning tops known as dreidels.













The four letters which appear on the four corners of a dreidel allude to the miracle of Hanukkah. They spell out: Nes (N-miracle), Gadol (G-great), Haya (H-happened) and Sham (S-there, meaning in Israel). Or, `a great miracle happened there.'

Indeed it did.

Chag Sameach! Happy Hannukah!


5 comments:

Ivan The Yid From Bradford - West Yorks - UK said...

Surely all these dates are BCE

B.Poster said...

Israel will need a similar miracle today to defeat its enemies that the Jews needed back then. G_d did it for the Jews back then and he will do it today. I pray that G_d will do the same thing for Gentiles that he does and has done for Israel. The United States also needs a miracle as well to defeat its enemies, both the domestic and the foreign ones. The US, Israel, and the entire free world desparately need a miracle.

Freedom Fighter said...

Hi Poster, study history..it will make you more optomistic. Free men have a way of defeating tyranny, in the end.

Ivan, mea culpa!

B.Poster said...

Freedom Fighter,

I'll take you advice and study more history:)

You are right that free men have a way of defeating tyranny in the end. Two things mainly concern me about the US and the free world. 1.) In times past we sought God for help in dealing with trying situations. Today many people have turned their backs on God and our Judeo-Christian heritiage. 2.)While the anti-American element in the US is probably not large in number, they hold very important positions within the US and Western European governments. They vigorously undermine any and all reasonable eforts to deal with foreign enemies. These domestic enemies are a far greater concern to me than the foreign enemies are.

Freedom Fighter said...

Some books I suggest:

`Carnage and Culture' By Victor Davis Hansen.

Winston Churchill's history of the Second World War.

`Strike Zion' by William Stevenson
(if you can find it)

Any of Bruce Caton's works on the Civil War, with particular emphasis on the war's early history and the domestic climate prior to Gettysburg.

`Shield of David' by Yigal Allon.