The Incredible Story of The Miracle Twins

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WHO WERE THE MACCABEES?

By: Rabbi Zamir Cohen



Soon we will celebrate the holiday of Hanukah.

As a person matures, he builds upon, and gains a more profound understanding of, the insights he learned during his childhood. There is no comparison between the Torah we studied in elementary school and our in-depth study with the commentaries as adults.

The same is true of Hanukah. When we were young, we learned a superficial and shallow view of the Hasmoneans, but the time has come to understand them in a more profound way.

A Spiritual Struggle

Let us begin with the Rambam’s comments in introducing his exposition of the halachotof Hanukah:

During [the time of] the Second Temple, the Greek Empire issued decrees against the Jewish people to eliminate their faith and prevent them from observing the Torah and its commandments. They extended their hands against their property and their daughters; they entered the Sanctuary, wrought havoc within it, and made the sacraments impure.

The Jews suffered great hardship because of them, and they oppressed them severely until the Gd of our ancestors had mercy upon them, delivered them from their hand, and saved them. The sons of the Hasmoneans, the High Priests, overcame [them], slew them, and saved the Jews from their hand. They appointed a king from the priests, and sovereignty returned to Israel for more than 200 years, until the destruction of the Second Temple.

When the Jews overcame their enemies and destroyed them, they entered the Sanctuary; this was on the 25th of Kislev. They could not find any pure oil in the Sanctuary, with the exception of a single cruse that contained enough oil to burn for merely one day. They lit lights from it for eight days until they couldcrush olives and produce pure oil.

It is clear from the Rambam’s description that the Greeks’ primary reason for waging war against the Jewish People was to destroy their unique Jewish identity, and this is why the Hasmoneans went to war against them. He also explains why we celebrate eight days: because it was the minimum time necessary to produce oil and bring it to the Bet Hamikdash. Once the Jews had produced the required amount of oil, there was no need for a further change in the laws of nature. The flames of the menorahthat had miraculously burned with the small amount of oil finally went out when it became possible to use the new oil to light the menorah.

Thus, two miracles occurred on Hanukah: the first miracle is described in our prayers: “You gave over the strong into the hands of the weak, and the many into the hands of the few.” The second was the miracle of the cruse of oil: a small jug with enough pure oil to burn for one day burned for eight days.

The Distortion of  the Maccabees

Often, when people describe the events of Hanukah, they present it much differently. Yehuda the Maccabee, the military leader of the revolt against the Greeks, is depicted as a muscular man with a block of hair blowing in the wind, without a beard, and a defiant look in his eyes – as if he were Attila the Hun. But this is not at all who Yehuda the Maccabee was. He and his brothers were Gd-fearing men and Torah scholars, who realized that the Greeks were destroying the people spiritually and corrupting themmorally. When they saw that there were Jews who were failing this difficult ordeal and becoming Hellenists, behaving like gentiles, their hearts bled, and they decided to go out and fight a battle which, rationally, had no realistic hope of succeeding. The entire campaign against the Greeks was a struggle over the spiritual existence of the Jewish people.

The Hebrew word “Maccabi” is an acrostic representing the words, “Mi kamocha ba’elim Hashem– Who is like You among the powerful, O’ Gd?” This is the slogan the Maccabees chose with which to launch their war. After all, what did Antiochus want? Unlike Haman, who wanted to destroy, kill and exterminate all Jews, Antiochus sought to kill not their bodies, but their souls. He wanted them to abandon their religion. If the Jews had come to Haman or Hitler, and said they were ready to change their religion, it would not have mattered to these mortal enemies whose desire was to exterminate the Jewish People, to eradicate any remnant of our nation, Gd forbid. Antiochus, however, sought to eliminate not the Jews, but rather Judaism. He wanted us to adopt Greek culture.

The    Ongoing    Battle    Against    Greek    Culture

All Western culture that we see today has its origins in Greece. The word “Olympics” comes from Greek, “stadium” is a Greek word, and the cult of the body comes from Greek culture. The Maccabees fought this worldview against all odds, and with full confidence in Gd’s assistance.

Judaism teaches us that it is important to keep our body healthy, so we can fulfill our spiritual goals according to the Torah, and live happily and contentedly in this world and in the afterlife. But our body must not become an object of worship.

Logically, the war led by a handful of Torah scholars against the powerful and trained Greek army was doomed to fail. But from the moment they were willing to sacrifice themselves for Gd – victory was theirs. And for this we praise and thank Gd, and we proclaim: “You gave over the strong into the hands of the weak, and the many into the hands of the few.”

Happy Hanukah!