And What If You Were There (By the Yeshiva of the Jewish Idea)

(I know it is posted a day late now - Parashat Vayigash - but the message remains unchanged all the same)


Jerusalem, Israel
HaRav Yehuda Kroizer SHLIT"A, Rosh Yeshiva

30 Kislev, 5766/30-31 December, 2005


Ever wonder how great it would be to be alive in the times of the Maccabees? Sitting around the campfire, eating latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts)... Exchanging presents and giving Chanukah gelt (money) to the kids... Oh, how I love this holiday. And how it falls out at the same time as the pagan holiday, why, that just adds to the wonderful atmosphere that there is at this time of the year, with great holiday sales going on all over... And wouldn’t you know it, why, there's Yehuda Maccabee walking down
the street now. Hey, what's that in his hand??? Oh my, a very big sword, now what on earth is he doing with that??? Oh my, he just chopped off the heads of the local Jewish Council. Oh my, why would he be doing that?? I better get out of here; come to think of it, I do not want to be here at all!

The holiday of Chanukah. Everyone loves it, and why not - it’s a nice holiday, the Jews get to eat, sing songs and play draidle. But if you lived in the time of the Chashmona'im, would you be one of the people that Yehuda and his brothers fought in their 25-year war against the Greeks - or would you be on the side of the few against the many? In truth, not many were.

More than any other holiday, Chanukah has lost its way. What once was a fight of the "tahurim"/the pure and just against the wicked - the light against the darkness - has turned into one big salad. Most people today who proudly show off their large chanukiyahs and eat their hot, oily latkes - would have found themselves on the other side of the sword, along with the Greeks running for their lives from the strong hand of the Maccabees.

Interestingly enough, we find that when our Rabbis, of blessed memory, wrote the "Al Hanissim" (On the miracles) which we recite in our daily prayer books during the days of Chanukah, they talk only about the war of the righteous against the wicked, the few against the many, good against evil. Strikingly absent is the most famous of all the Chanukah stories, the story of the small amount of oil that was found among the broken vessels and which lasted for eight days. How could our Rabbis of old leave out this most famous part of the Chanukah story?

The war against the Greeks in the Land of Israel was a very hard and bloody one, with tens of thousands of Jews being put to death by the hands of the Greeks and their mercenary army. Good people began to question if the war was really worth the huge cost. True, life under the the Greeks was unbearable, with yeshivas being closed down, Jews unable to keep Shabbat and holidays or any other aspect of Jewish life... as the Greeks tried to close down Jewish life as we know it. But still, with whole villages being razed by the Greeks, the thought came up that just maybe, the war was not really
worth the price.

With the liberation of our Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the answer came from on high. More than anything else, the miracle of the oil was Hashem's way of telling His people that this was the right direction - His seal of approval, so to speak, on what was going on in the battlefield. That is why our Rabbis did not place the miracle of the oil in the daily prayer books - because it came just to reinforce the main aspect of Chanukah, namely, the culture battle which the Maccabees waged against the Greeks.

The essence of Chanukah is the spirit of the Jew rising up for his religious freedom, a freedom without which it is certainly not worth living. For just to be as all the other nations, as the Greeks so much wanted the Jews to become, has absolutely no meaning. If the Maccabees stand for anything, it is that it is worth dying for the merit to live as a Torah Jew dedicated to the service of Hashem.

Now, which side of the fence would you be on if you lived in the time of the Maccabees?

With love of Israel,
Levi Chazen

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