With the lighting of the Hanukah lights, and the latkes and dreidels and gifts for the kids, the actual story of Hanukah is often overlooked. Most people remember Yehuda the Maccabee, and the miracle of the small cruse of oil, but that’s about it. So let’s take an abridged glance at the “Book of the Maccabees” to see how the saga began.
With the Greek conquest of Eretz Yisrael, the Jews were forced to abandon the Torah and adopt the immoral ways of the foreigners. To win the acceptance and approval of their rulers, many Jews consented to worship idols and bring sacrifices to foreign gods, to leave their sons uncircumcised, and to defile themselves with every kind of licentiousness and perversion. These Hellenist Jews even joined forces with the enemy to hunt out and oppress Jews who kept faithful to the Torah.
“They put to death the women who circumcised their children, hanging the newborn babies around their necks; and they also put to death their families as well as those who had circumcised them. Nevertheless, many in Israel were firmly resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They preferred to die rather than be defiled by food or break the holy Covenant, and they were killed. Great was the wrath that came upon Israel.”
Appalled by the wholesale desecration of G-d and with the desecration of the Temple and Holy City, the holy Kohen, Mattityahu, moved his family to Modin. Greek officers came to Modin to force the Jews to renounce Hashem and sacrifice to foreign gods on their altars. Because of his position of influence and leadership, Mattityahu was chosen by the Greeks to lead the way in defying G-d and his Torah. When a Jew came forward to heed the command, Mattityahu slew him, along with the Greek officer, and pulled down the altar.
“Thus he showed his zeal for the Torah, as Pinchus had done toward Zimri. Then Mattityahu shouted out in a loud voice throughout the town, saying, ‘Let everyone who is zealous for the Torah and who would safeguard the Brit, follow me.’”
Mattityahu and his sons fled to the mountains, followed by all those who remained true to the Torah.
“They mustered an army and slew the (Jewish Hellenist) evildoers in their anger and the (Jewish Hellenist) sinners in their wrath, while the rest fled to the gentiles to save themselves. Mattityahu and his comrades went about and tore down the altars, and circumcised by force as many of the children as they found in the borders of Israel, They pursued the contemptuous (Jewish Hellenists), and the work prospered in their hands. Thus, they rescued the Torah from the hand of the heathen and their kings, and gave no occasion for triumph to the (Jewish Hellenist) sinner.”
“When the days drew near for Mattityahu to die, he said to his sons, ‘Now arrogance and reproach have become strong. This is a time of destruction and anger. My children, be zealous for the Torah, and give your lives in behalf of the Testament of our fathers…. Of the words of a sinful man be not afraid, because his glory shall become dung and worms. Today he may be exalted, but tomorrow he will nowhere be found, because he has returned to his dust, and memory of him will have perished. As for you, my children, be strong and courageous in behalf of the Torah, for through it you will be glorified.”
“Then Yehuda, his son, who was called Maccabee, arose in his stead, and all his brothers helped him. As well as all those who were followers of his father, and gladly they fought Israel’s war. Yehuda spread his people’s glory far and wide. He donned a breastplate like a giant and girded on his weapons of war. He organized battles, protecting his camp with his sword. He was like a lion in his deeds, like a lion’s whelp roaring for its prey. He sought out and pursued those (Jewish Hellenists) who transgressed the Torah, and annihilated those who oppressed his people. Transgressors of the Torah cowered for fear of him. All (Jewish Hellenist) workers of iniquity were thrown into confusion, and deliverance was accomplished by his hand. He went about among the cities of Yehuda, and from it he utterly destroyed the (Jewish Hellenist) evildoers. Thus he turned away wrath from Israel. To the ends of the earth he was renowned, and he brought together those who were ready to perish.”
Hanukah, my friends, is a lot more than eating jelly donuts and lighting candles. Hanukah celebrates the exalted holiness, bravery, and devotion to Torah of Mattityahu and his sons, the most revered and renowned Jewish heroes of all time. Hanukah celebrates our nation’s victory over enemies from within and without. Hanukah celebrates the eternal light and holiness of the Brit between Hashem and the Nation of Israel over the immorality and darkness of the world.
May the same spirit of fearless devotion to Torah rise up amongst us, and may the miracles that happened to our forefathers, in those days, at this time, happen to us today, shattering the darkness that surrounds us and revealing our eternal light!