Robert O. Miller
“Sing for joy to Elohim our strength; shout aloud to the Elohim of Jacob! Begin the music, strike the tambourine, play the melodious harp and lyre. Sound the ram’s horn at the New Moon, when the moon is veiled, on the day of our Feast; this is a decree for Israel, an ordinance of the Elohim of Jacob.” (Psalm 81:1-4)
There have been many times that oppressive nations sought to destroy Israel, and we were miraculously saved from their designs. Upon two of these occasions, the Rabbis saw fit to establish an annual holiday commemorating the miraculous salvation, providing us with an opportunity to remember Yahweh’s kindness to us, and thank him for saving us. One of those is the Feast of Rededication – the Festival of Lights – Chanukah.
Chanukah commemorates Israel’s victory over the Syrian-Greeks. The oppressive acts of Antiochus and the Syrian-Greeks, were to get Israel to abandon Torah, and become integrated into the Greek lifestyle. The oppressors sought only to destroy Israel spiritually. And so, when Yahweh granted MattinYahu and the Hasmoneans victory over the Syrian-Greeks, He was preserving the spirituality of the Israelite nation.
The miracle of Chanukah reflects the active trust of the Hasmoneans (Maccabees) to stand up and fight against the Hellenistic Empire and its paganistic culture. Chanukah begins on the 25th day of Kislev. It lasts for eight days, and therefore carries over into the next month of Tevet.
The year was about 165 BCE. A large group of men led by Judah the Maccabee climbed to the top of a mountain overlooking Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). It was the same mountain from which, many centuries later, the Crusaders would launch their attack against the Moslems and from which the Jordanian artillery would shell Yerushalayim in 1967. In 165 BCE, however, Judah and his men, with the help of Yahweh, were about to complete a great victory, a triumph that lives on as the miracle of Chanukah.
After the death of Alexander the Great, conqueror of the world and friend of Israel, his Empire was divided among his generals. Eretz Yisroel (the land of Israel), – the Kingdom of Judea – was added to the Empire of Antiochus Epimanes (the madman), the most infamous of all Syrian Rulers down through the ages, whose hunger for power and glory was boundless. He viewed himself as the direct offspring of Alexander the Great although the Book of Maccabees denies this.
“A scion of this stock was that wicked man, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus. He had been a hostage in Rome before he succeeded to the throne in the year 137 (185 BCE) of the Greek era” (I Maccabees 1:7-10).
When Antiochus Epiphanes became king of the Syrian-Greeks, he was not content to accept the taxes and loyalty of the Jews as his predecessors had done. He wanted the Jews to lay aside their Torah and ancient religion, and, in their place, substitute the Hellenistic Greek culture and Grecian idols.
King Antiochus bore down on his Jewish subjects with a measure of ruthlessness, stubbornness and cruelty that earned him the nickname Antiochus the Madman. He defiled the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) – by filling it with pagan idols and sacrifices of pigs. He forbade Israel to observe the commandments of Brit Milah (circumcision), Rosh Chodesh (the New Moon), and the Shabbat. Jewish women were systematically mistreated.
To provoke a war in which he could exterminate the Jews, he set an image of himself up in the Holy Temple pictured as Zeus Epiphanes. He prohibited the observance of any Torah ordinance, and sacrificed the blood of a pig on the Temple Brazen Altar. Under the pretext of peace, he had attacked Jerusalem on the Sabbath, thinking that the Orthodox would not fight.
“On the fifteenth day of the month Kislev in the year 145 (167 BCE), the Abomination of Desolation was set up on the altar. Pagan altars were built throughout the towns of Judea …. On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the pagan altar which was on top of the altar of Yahweh” (I Maccabees 1:54, 59).
The Chashmonaim weren’t only fighting the powers that be. They were also executing Hellenized, or assimilated Jews as traitors.
The Book of Judith is about how Israelite women behaved in the Maccabean Wars. The beautiful Judith, the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest and a widow during a siege of the Jewish city of Bethulia, was determined to save her people by assassinating the Assyrians’ general, Holofernes. Bitterness for the Assyrian occupational government was building due to the recent ordinance that every virgin bride prior to marriage was obliged to sleep with the Assyrian Governor. She acted as if she was forced to flee the city with her maid, reached General Holofernes’ camp, and encouraged him to believe that victory would soon be his. General Holofernes invited her into his tent for an evening banquet, intending to seduce her; instead, Judith waited until he fell into a drunken sleep, grabbed his sword, and cut off his head, bringing it in a sack to Bethulia. The Hebrew defenders mounted the head on the town’s ramparts and soon routed the leaderless Assyrian troops.
The Second Book of the Maccabees records cases of pious Jews who chose to die rather than submit to the Syrians. A celebrated mother, Hannah, expressed unfaltering faith in Yahweh as she was forced to watch her seven sons die for refusing to bow to an idol, and then she was martyred herself.
Hannah’s martyrdom raises the issue of supreme sacrifice for religion. We might ask ourselves where we would draw that line today. Hannah also calls upon us to hold in our hearts those mothers in every generation who must give up their children to war. We are reminded in particular about mothers in Israel today.
“…Yahweh says: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more…Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded…They will return from the land of the enemy. (Jeremiah 31:15-16)”
Jews who dared to remain loyal to the Faith of Yahweh were brutally tortured and murdered. If a woman had her infant circumcised, she was murdered, the baby publicly hanged, and all who participated in the Brit ceremony were executed and their property confiscated. Against this backdrop, Jewish resistance began to ebb and it seemed inevitable that the last remnants of resistance would soon be wiped out.
Then, one courageous old man turned the tide. His name was MattinYahu and he was a Kohen – head of the Hasmonean family, from the Judean town of Modi’in near Lod. The Syrian-Greek governor of MattinYahu’s region set up an idol in Modi’in, rounded up the townspeople, and introduced an “enlightened” Jew who would sacrifice a pig on the idol in recognition of the decree of Antiochus. Old Mattinyahu stepped forward and slew the traitor.
With the rallying cry of, “Mi La’Yahweh Ay-li (Whoever is for Yahweh, let him come to me),” he called the people to rebellion. A pitifully small number responded at first – the people were numb with fear and hopelessness – but MattinYahu’s five sons led the way. They fought the Syrian-Greeks, retreated to the mountains, and began a guerrilla war against the Syrian-Greeks and their Jewish allies. Mattinyahu had not long to live, but on his deathbed he charged his sons to carry on the struggle. The glorious brothers heeded his command. He passed on the leadership to his second son, Judah the Maccabee, who was a mighty warrior and a charismatic leader.
In the Maccabean Wars, Antiochus was defeated. Exactly three years to the day after his Abomination of Desolation, the Jews rededicated the Holy Temple:
“Then early on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, the month Kislev, in the year 148 (164 BCE), sacrifice was offered as the Torah commands on the newly made altar of burnt offering. On the anniversary of the day when the Gentiles had profaned it, on that very day, it was rededicated … They celebrated the rededication of the altar for eight days” (I Maccabees 4:52-54, 56).
“Now Maccabeus and his followers, Yahweh leading them on, recovered the Temple and the city and they tore down the altars which had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts. They purified the Sanctuary and made another altar of sacrifice. Then striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they burned incense and lit lamps and set out the bread of the Presence. When they had done this, they fell prostrate and besought Yahweh that they might never again fall into such misfortunes, but that if they should ever sin, they might be disciplined by him with forbearance and not be handed over to blasphemous and barbarous nations. It happened that on the same day on which the sanctuary had been profaned by the foreigners, the purification of the sanctuary took place, that is, on the 25th day of Kislev. They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of Sukkot, remembering how not long before, during the Sukkot, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals. Therefore bearing ivy-wreathered wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. They decreed by public ordinance and vote that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year.” (2 Maccabees 10:1-8)
Josephus, living about the time of YahShua said: “Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the Temple for eight days; and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God and delighted them by hymns and psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs when after a long time of intermission they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival on account of the restoration of their Temple worship for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival. Judas also rebuilt the walls around the city, and reared towers of great height against the incursions of enemies, and set guards therein. He also fortified the city Bethsura, that it might serve as a citadel against any distresses that might come from our enemies.” (Antiquities of the Jews 12:7)
Many miracles happened. Outnumbered a hundred to one, Judah and his men won many battles. Jews came to join him. In a few years, he had defeated the mightiest armies of Syria. Victory belonged to the Jew, the pure, the righteous, and the loyal defender of the Torah. Following the rebellion, the kingdom of Israel was restored for 200 years, until the destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdash.
So it was that Judah and his men climbed the mountain above Yerushalayim and saw that there was no resistance. On the 25th day of Kislev, they marched into the Holy City and immediately made their way to the Beit Hamikdash where they saw a sight that left them shocked and angered. Idols, filth, impurity were everywhere. They rummaged through the ruins seeking at least one flask of pure olive oil with which to light the makeshift menorah they hastily put together.
Flask after flask they found – every one of them defiled. Finally – another miracle! One small jug, sufficient for only one day, remained with the seal of the Kohen Gadol intact! Quickly, with trembling hands, they poured it into the menorah and lit it. It would be eight days before they could manufacture more oil for the next lighting, but meanwhile, they lit what they had.
“What is the reason for Chanukah? For our Rabbis taught: On the 25th of Kislev begin the days of Chanukah, which are eight, during which lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils in it, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they [the Hasmoneans] searched and found only one cruse of oil which possessed the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient oil for only one day’s lighting; yet a miracle occurred there and they lit [the lamp] for eight days. The following year these days were appointed a Festival with the recitation of Hallel and thanksgiving.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, page 21b)
The flames of the menorah burned and burned and burned and burned and burned and burned and burned and burned. For eight days they burned. (I bet you counted). Those eight miraculous days were chosen as the eternal symbol to commemorate the miracle of Chanukah and to celebrate the vengeance of Yahweh – the eight day long Festival of Lights, where we light the Menorah each evening, publicizing the miracle hwhy performed over 2100 years ago.
This was the inauguration of חֲנֻכַּת khan·ük·kä’, the Hebrew word for “dedication.” In a strange turn of events, the false gods of Greco-Romans were brought together in a historical moment that illustrated one thing with utmost clarity; HaSatan desires to have his man stand up in the Holy Temple and declare himself as a god.
The events in the life of Antiochus model the horrors of that future event, when the Moshaich Neged (Antichrist) declares himself to be the very embodiment Elohim of Heaven.
The Seleucid Dynasty continued until, in the days of Antiochus XIII, Pompey journeyed to Syria and publicly declared it to be a Roman province. This event, in 63 BCE, marked the end of Syrian autonomy. Syria, still to this day, points to the Chashmonaim Revolt as the point in which they lost political face and they have never forgot it. They still want revenge.
The Syrians believe that revenge has already started with the recent war between Israel and Hezbullah. The perceived win has bolstered their momentum for blood.
“Concerning Damascus: ‘Hamath and Arpad are dismayed, for they have heard bad news. They are disheartened, troubled by the restless sea. Damascus has become feeble, she has turned to flee and panic has gripped her; anguish and pain have seized her, pain like that of a woman in labor.
Why has the city of renown not been abandoned, the town in which I delight?
Surely, her young men will fall in the streets; all her soldiers will be silenced in that day,’ declares Yahweh Almighty. ‘I will set fire to the walls of Damascus; it will consume the fortresses of Ben-Hadad.” (Jeremiah 49:23-27)
The “wall of Damascus” refers to the Old City. Its ancient wall still stands today, surrounding the Azam Palace, the “palaces of Ben-Hadad”. Everything within the wall encompasses the ancient and venerable history of commerce, wars, conquests, religion and politics. The “sons of Hadad” are the Ammonite rulers. The Ammonites are modern Arameans, the original Syrians. The Assad family is “ben Hadad.”
The ultimate Syria’s destruction acts as a catalyzing factor that precipitates the assault mentioned in Ezekiel 38. This explains why Syria fails to appear in Ezekiel’s list of the forces allied in the attack.
As we celebrate all the victories Yahweh has given at this time of year our appreciation for these gifts, the opportunity to serve Yahweh and recognize him as our Elohim, is best acknowledged through spiritual expressions of praise & worship.
All of our holiday-related activities on Chanukah should carry this significance with it. We should take the opportunities we are granted to praise Yahweh and re-affirm our commitment to Him.
All observances connected with Chanukah, whether physical or spiritual, be a point of inspiration to carry us through until we reach the next holiday which celebrates our physical salvation – Purim.
Originally written by Rabbi Robert O. Miller on Dec. 2 2010
(Robert Owen Miller 1957-2021)
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