Sanctifying Chanukah – Sanctifying G-d’s Name



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Chanukah - When is it Neccessary to Fight?

By Menachem Mendelsohn

All of the above is speaking about the individual Jew with his individual and personal obligation. We do not find in the Rambam an obligation for the community to bear arms in rebellion against the authorities, even though there is a separate mitzvah to fight in wars that is when there is a king or a Sanhedrin, some governing authority to lead an army, but not when we are under a bitter and evil government that we wish to overthrow.

Here we must examine the rationale of the Hasmonians who by their rebellion endangered other innocent Jewish lives. Why did they see fit to engage the mighty Greek army who had much popular support from the Jewish Hellenists? Were they hotheads who had no regard for Jewish law and for the possible collateral damage they may bring on innocent civilians?

The Greeks had a scorched earth policy; if a village would support the Hasmonean rebels, the village would be razed and all inhabitants would be killed. This policy was to serve as a cruel notice to every Jew that helping those who rebelled against authority was viewed as a serious act against the Greek rulers. How could the Hasmoneans, by the act of their rebellion put innocent Jewish lives in danger? If they were so motivated, they themselves as individuals should be martyred – and thereby not endanger innocent villagers. This is apparent from the liturgy which states that the Hasmoneans were “the few against the many”. According to the conventional warfare in their times, the large armies were generally successful against small armies. How much more so untrained men whose only skill was in bringing sacrifices in the Temple against the world’s strongest and most professional army?

The Hasmonians viewed the action of the Hellenists and their Greek patrons as a battle against G-d, as we say in parts of the Hanukah liturgy, “to make them forget Your Torah and transgress the laws of Your will.” The Hasmonians put the emphasis on the word “Your” in ‘Your Torah’ and ‘Your will’. They understood that the Hellenists were not just out to transform the Jews into Greek-thinking Mediterraneans, but to erase G-d from the world. The Hellenists did not mind the intellectual study of the Torah, but they did object to a concept of the divine that superseded rational thought. As long as the Torah was studied for its sublime intellect and deep arguments, it was viewed as a vehicle for improving intelligence; it did not disturb them. It was only when the Torah was Your Torah, the Torah of G-d, the G-d whose teachings supercede intellect, to which the Hellenists objected.

The Hasmoneans were, as mentioned above, from the priestly class; they served in the Temple. The other Jews came to the Temple, but the other Jews had a lesser connection with the Temple than did the priests who actually served and brought the sacrifices onto the altar. The priests had a sensitivity to G-d and G-dliness that transcended that of the average Jew. They had a connection to G-d that was above and beyond that of any intellectual conceptualization. Because they were the priests that served in the Temple, their essence was to be totally together with Him.

The rule of giving one’s life for the glorification of G-d’s name applies to the individual. It is incumbent upon the individual to analyze his particular situation to make an intelligent judgment if he is required to give up his life. The Hasmoneans did not make this evaluation; they did not rely on their intellectual abilities to make a decision. They were infused with the spirit of G-d, like their ancient predecessor, Pinchas the son of Aaron, the high priest, who killed a leader of one of the tribes when he flaunted the law in front of the congregation. Because the Hasmoneans were the priests and they ministered in the Temple to G-d, they felt the anger of G-d, and therefore they acted in His behalf. This is why we say in the song which we recite after the candle lighting, “through (the action) of the holy priests in those days.”

It was not a judgment that anyone else could have made. To the average man, it might even seem rash and foolhardy, but the Hasmoneans were one with G-d. They acted in the spirit of G-d. The result of their action is Chanukah, a celebration of being one with G-d by transcending intellect.


For more articles on Chanukah, see our Chanukah archives


from the December 2007 Chanukah Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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