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The Secret Weapon of Yehudah the Maccabee

By Tzvi Fishman
12/9/2010, 12:00 AM

This blog, and the light of Torah which it contains, are dedicated the speedy recovery and refuah shelama of ABRAHAM BEN ALTOON, the father of DACON9.  

At the time of the Hanukah story, under the pernicious influence of Hellenism, the Jewish People became so assimilated and materialistic, they failed to see the hand of G-d in the incredible military victory of the heroic band of Hasmonean rebels. It took the miracle of the Menorah to make them realize that just as G-d had kept the tiny cruse of oil burning for eight miraculous days, it was also G-d who had miraculously led the Hasmonean fighters to victory.

The Maccabees - Warriors of Holiness


Certainly the Maccabees were brave, fearless fighters and daring military strategists. But this alone cannot account for their battlefield successes over the largest, most powerful, most mightily-equipped army in the world, a devastating war machine backed by endless warships, a division of elephant-tanks, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers. What then was the secret of the Maccabees, triumph? What was the source of the miracle?

At the center of the Greek plan to uproot the Torah from Israel was their strategy to lure the Jews into sexual transgression. The Jewish People's belief that G-d ruled over the physical world, as well as the spiritual, was something that the hedonistic Hellenist culture could not allow. For this reason the Greeks outlawed Brit Milah, the symbol of Israel's holiness and difference from the nations. Simply put, the Greeks did not want the G-d of the Jews interfering in their sexual orgies. Their culture of sexual permissiveness could not tolerate a co-existing culture that condemned sexual sin. So after conquering the Land of Israel, the Greeks set up their brothels in Jerusalem and hung up bright neon signs reading: JEWS ALLOWED.

Greek Olympics


For the majority of Jews, this encounter with a culture that glorified the flesh while lauding the arts and lofty intellectual expression, proved to be too much of a challenge. Young Jewish males stripped off their clothes and rushed to compete in the nude sporting Olympics. Craving to be like the Greeks, the Jewish Hellenists stretched their orlah [foreskins] back over the sign of their Brit, in order to look like their gentile masters. Enraptured by the tantalizing synthesis of Greek intellectuality and unbridled bohemianism, Jews abandoned the synagogue and study halls, adopted Greek names, dressed up in Greek tunics, flocked to Greek theaters, bathed in Greek spas, and drank alongside the "enlightened" foreigners in their pornographic pubs.

The Greeks were not content to merely defile the men. Among the harsh decrees that the Greeks imposed on the Jews, the Rambam mentions the ravaging of Jewish daughters. Before Jewish brides were allowed to marry, they were first forcefully taken to the Greek governor to satisfy his lust.

It is told that Mattityahu's daughter, in bold defiance against this edict, appeared naked before her father and brothers. Enraged, they cried out that she must be killed. "Me, you are ready to kill," she challengingly answered. "But not the wicked Greek occupiers who are polluting all of the daughters of Israel and who have brought this terrible immodesty upon us!" (Ketubot 3b, Midrash Ma'ase Hanukah, Rashi on Yehezkel 21:18, Megilat Ta'anit on Elul 17)

Shaken by the words of his daughter and by the horrible disgrace, Mattityahu and his five sons rose up like lions against the enemies of Israel and G-d. When the Greek governor sent an officer to erect an altar in Modiin and force the Jews to sacrifice upon it, Mattityahu rushed forward to slay him. The "Book of the Maccabees" relates:

"Thus he showed his zeal for the Torah, as Pinchas had done toward Zimri, son of Salu. Then Mattityahu cried out in a loud voice in the town, saying, "Let everyone who is zealous for the Torah and who guards the Brit, follow me!"

In Mattityahu's very first cry to battle lies the secret of Hanukah. First, we must note the comparison to Pinchas, who saved Israel from falling into sexual transgression. Like Pinchas, Mattityahu, was an upholder of the Brit. As Kohen Gadol [High Priest], he was entrusted with guarding the sexual purity of the nation, as it says regarding the Kohanim, "For they have observed Your word and guarded your Brit" (Devarim, 33:10). Zealousness for the Torah and guarding the Brit go hand in hand. Thus Mattityahu's cry to war was, "Let everyone who is zealous for the Torah and who guards the Brit, follow me!" All of the Israelis ere holy warriors, guardians of the Brit.  

The Zohar teaches that as long as Israel is free from sexual transgression no rival nation can rule over them. "Rabbi Elazar said, As long as men remain attached to the Brit and do not lose their control over it, there is no nation nor language in the world that can do them harm" (Zohar, Bereshit 66b).

Guarding the Brit of sexual purity was the secret weapon of the Maccabees. As guardians of the Brit, they were raised up over the normal ways of the world. Rabbi Nachman teaches that their valor and prowess derived from the transcendental holiness of Kedushat HaBrit [holiness of sexual purity]. Their shield in battle was their high level of holiness. Because they ruled over the sexual passion, they were able to shatter the wicked Greek kingdom that deified the gratification of sensual pleasure. Only such exalted heroes of holiness can battle the forces of darkness and win (Likutei Halachot, Hanukah, 3:4).

This is the reason that the Torah portion of Miketz always falls on Hanukah, because it tells how Yosef, in the merit of guarding the Brit by overcoming the temptations of  Potifar's wife, rose to rule over the evil empire of Egypt. "Because Yosef mastered his passion, the forces of evil bowed down before him, and he was made master over the licentious land" (Ibid, 3:7).         

Because of their allegiance to the Brit, the Hasmonean fighters were above the natural world. The Shechinah was with them to lead them in battle. It didn't matter if the Greek army had one hundred thousand soldiers or a million - the Maccabees were fighting on a totally different spiritual and physical level that transcended normal military laws. Thus, Yehuda the Maccabee could proclaim, "There is no difference in the sight of Heaven to save by the many or by the few. Victory in battle does not depend on the size of the army, but rather on the valor that comes from Heaven" (Book of the Maccabees, Part One, 3:18-19).

The basis of this understanding comes from the Torah which states that Israel’s success in battle stems from the holiness of its military camps:

“When you go out to encamp against your enemies, keep yourself away from every evil thing (dvar ra). If there be among you any man, that is not clean by reason of uncleanness that chances by night, then he shall go abroad out of the camp, he shall not come within the camp: but it shall be, when evening comes on, he shall bathe himself in water: and when the sun is down, he shall come into the camp again... for the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you, and to give up your enemies before you; therefore your camp shall be holy: that He sees no unclean thing in you, and turn away from you” (Devarim, 23:10-15).

The Torah demands that a military camp in Israel must be free of “every evil thing.” The meaning of “dvar ra” is sexual transgression. Soldiers must even be careful not to think impure thoughts, as the Talmud states: “The Rabbi’s have taught regarding the injunction, ‘V’nishmarta m’kol dvar ra,’ that one should not think about impure things during the day, lest he come to pollute himself (with a nocturnal emission) at night” (Avodah Zara 20B). This is the meaning of “mikre lilah,” in the above cited verse, “uncleanness that chances by night,” which is derived from the word “keri,” meaning an emission of seminal seed. This is also emphasized at the end of the portion regarding a military camp, “therefore your camp shall be holy: that He sees no unclean thing in you, and turn away from you.” The main intention of this verse is to caution one from engaging in sexual fantasies, not to mention forbidden acts. Today it would mean no laptops and cell phones with access to Internet porn.

Why is this concern over modesty so insistent?  

The Torah itself gives us the answer: “For the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp.” Rabbi Eliezer Melamed explains in his book, “The Nation and the Land,” that the soldiers of Israel are cherished by the Holy One Blessed Be He. His Divine Presence, the Shechinah, watches over them in order “to deliver you, and to give up your enemies before you.” The military camp of Israel, what we call Tzahal today, has a holiness similar to that of the Sanctuary, and therefore, soldiers must keep themselves in a sanctify state, just like the Priests who serve in the Temple. If there be sexual wrongdoing in the military camp, God removes His Divine Presence from amongst us, Heaven forbid. The Shechinah abandons the camp, leaving our soldiers without Divine protection and aid. Chazal explain that soldiers are in greater need of Divine assistance, for Satan brings accusations against sinners in times of danger, and therefore, soldiers must be especially cautious in these matters.

The Maccabees upheld this exalted level of kedusha. Please note that brit milah is performed on the eighth day after birth. Thus the Brit is associated with the number eight. The number eight belongs to the world above nature. The musical instrument associated with the days of Mashiach has eight strings, unlike the seven-string harp ordinarily used in the Temple (Arachin 13B).

The Maharal of Prague teaches:

"The workings of the natural world are under the influence of the number seven, because the natural world was created in seven days. Therefore, whatever is beyond the natural world is under the realm of the number eight. A brit milah is beyond nature, since men are naturally born with an orlah, and consequently, it is performed on the eighth day" (Ner Mitzvah, Pg. 23, "Yahadut" Edition).

As everyone knows, after the Maccabees purified the Temple, the miraculous light in the Menorah burnt for eight days, symbolizing that the miracle in the Temple occurred in the merit of the Brit and its guardians who risked their lives to defend it.

Each year when we light the Hanukah lights, we are reminded that in every generation, we are called upon to stand firm against the forces of evil which constantly seek to uproot the Jewish People from the Covenant of sexual holiness which binds us to our G-d, our Torah, and our Land. Today, when spiritual enemies have exported their hedonistic cultures to our shores, and to our homes via the Hellanistic smut on the Internet, in order to insure that the Shechinah remains in our camp, we should all remember that it isn't merely the strength of the army that brings victory, but rather the holiness with which we live our lives.

"You shall keep yourself far away from every evil thing!"