For an entire generation, the ancient Judeans waged a struggle for freedom, which, in terms of intensity, has almost no parallel in all human history. It was among the first recorded wars of national liberation and it laid a model for nearly every revolution that followed. With an unbreakable faith and willingness to sacrifice, a handful of valiant Hebrew guerrillas forged the eternal covenant that resistance to tyranny is the highest and truest obedience to HaShem.
In those years, the cultural imperialism to which the Seleucid Empire aspired was at its peak. Hellenist philosophies and values were brought to Jerusalem by means of harsh edicts and the daggers of foreign soldiers. The victimization of the weak, rampant debauchery and the desecration of the Temple were the pinnacles of the enlightened Greek culture bestowed upon Judea. In Jerusalem, the urban upper class yearned to be citizens of Antioch and to transform their ancient city into an enlightened Greek Polis. When the uprising began, it arose from the mountain folk who remained loyal to G-D’s Torah and to the spiritual heritage of their fathers. They were led by the Hasmoneans – Matityahu ben Yohanan HaKohen and his five courageous sons. The flame of revolt was kindled in Modiin and quickly spread throughout the hills of Judea. After Matityahu’s death, his third son Yehuda inherited command. He became the Maccabee and his guerrilla army moved in two channels that were in fact one – war upon the foreign Hellenist culture and war against the Seleucid occupation of Judea. Two wars with one goal of Hebrew independence in Eretz Yisrael.
The Maccabean revolt was not merely a struggle to revoke harsh decrees or secure freedom of worship. According to Torah Law, national independence and political sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael is the foundation for proper religious observance (see Mishnah Torah Hilchot Chanukah 3:1, Pesikta Rabati 34, Magid Mesharim Parshat Vayikra and Chesed L’Avraham 3:7). HaShem’s Divine blueprint for history demands that Israel be an independent nation in full borders.
The Hasmoneans were ferociously determined. After several Judean victories and the liberation of Jerusalem, the Seleucid Syrian-Greeks offered a truce. Freedom of worship would be restored to the natives in exchange for ending their violent revolution. There were some within Israel naïve enough to be content and halt the fighting. A misunderstanding of Torah caused those weak in spirit and tired of war to believe that they had already achieved their objectives. The Hasmonean faction, however, understood that they were required by G-D’s Law to liberate their country and not simply live within it as pious individuals under a foreign regime. They also knew that without complete national independence, there could be no lasting peace or full freedom of worship as the spirit of Greece could again seek to dominate Judea. Yehuda declared that the revolution must continue until complete political independence could be won. After nearly three decades of bitter guerrilla warfare, the Hasmoneans triumphed and the Kingdom of Israel was restored for over two hundred years (Hilchot Chanukah 3:1).
The devout heroism of Matityahu and his sons awakened within their people aspirations for independence. This desire for liberty – which had not strongly surfaced prior to the oppression – was catalyzed by the cultural persecution of Syrian Greeks. Political independence was eventually declared and this declaration itself served as a barrier against the forces of Hellenization as the very desire for national freedom psychologically impedes assimilation into the culture of an occupying power. Yet without Matityahu and his sons – the holy warrior priests who imbued the political ideal with spiritual content – the revolution would have lacked sufficient force to keep fighting and withstand the prolonged hardships of war. This is demonstrated through the miracle of the oil. The pure cruse with the seal of the High Priest shone brightly in the Menorah, its light permeating the soul of the Hebrew Nation and bestowing upon Israel the strength to fight on.
Perhaps the most important lesson of Chanukah is that light is not merely another creation but rather Creation’s ultimate goal. The Maharal of Prague teaches in Ner Mitzvah that the world was created deficient so that it could perfect itself and be perfected through mankind. Human beings are given free will in order to choose to participate in bringing the world to its goal. Being perfect and complete, by definition, requires one to lack nothing – including the ability to experience the phenomena of perfecting and completing oneself. At first glance it would appear paradoxically impossible for an already perfect and complete being to experience becoming more perfect or complete. But true perfection and completeness by their very definitions must not exclude any capabilities. The way in which HaShem – the timeless and all encompassing ultimate Reality without end – achieves the experience of becoming more perfect and more complete is through human beings, who are all expressions of their Divine Source (similar to the relationship between the thought and the thinker). As human beings perfect themselves and grow, HaShem “experiences” perfection and growth. We were all created deficient so that He would – through us – experience self-improvement. The more we become aware of this incredible reality, the closer our world comes to fundamental perfection. And as the main protagonist in the drama of human history, Israel is tasked with revealing this truth, thereby bringing the world ever closer to its predestined ideal state.
Israel’s mission, however, can only be accomplished through the Jewish people sovereign over Eretz Yisrael with the Torah serving as our national constitution. Only through this criterion can Israel lift the veils of reality and expose the Divine light constantly present, revealing HaShem as the intangible Oneness that includes, sustains and permeates all.
While this reality of G-D’s grandeur is always true, it is often hidden from man’s consciousness by curtains of perception. It therefore becomes possible for a person to acknowledge his own life while simultaneously denying the existence of the Divine Source who provides his every moment of being and is, in fact, his higher inner Self. It is Israel’s task to eliminate the curtains and reveal the Divine light of existence – to bring the world to a state of perfection where all humankind achieves awareness of HaShem.
Although G-D’s presence is hidden in day-to-day events, He continues to work through the system that He created in order to return that very system back to the full expression of His Oneness. Through a Divinely guided historical process, all of existence is sanctified and revealed as actually occurring within its ultimate Source. Not only supernatural miracles but also the entire world, with all of its natural laws, is being pulled toward Creation’s momentous goal through the story of Israel’s national rebirth on our native soil. This idea is clearly illustrated by the past hundred years of world history. The full restoration of the Israeli Kingdom in our homeland will remove the remaining curtains that prevent man’s self-awareness and bring humanity to understand that we are all aspects and expressions of a greater Reality.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto teaches in Derech HaShem that G-D placed forces of evil into our story as an essential ingredient that enables free will, struggle and human growth. This evil has the task of working to prevent HaShem’s light from shining and Creation from reaching its ultimate goal. Throughout history, this evil has manifested itself as four main human empires, each attempting in its own unique way to impede Israel from reaching our full potential as the holy kingdom that will bring the light of G-D’s Truth to mankind. This is the cosmic battle between light and darkness waging down through the ages of civilization.
The four kingdoms – Babylon, Persia, Greece and Edom – that have usurped Israel’s role and have dominated the globe throughout most of world history emerged from the inherently deficient nature of existence. These empires aim to hold back HaShem’s light through preventing Israel from reaching our full national potential. Each of these empires, however, has had it’s own unique method for obstructing the Jewish mission.
Knowing that the Hebrew Nation must be in Eretz Yisrael in order to fulfill our role, the Babylonians worked to physically separate the Nation of Israel from the Land of Israel. They exiled us from our borders and provided us with comfortable lives in a foreign land. This simple separation, although Jews remained Torah observant in the Diaspora, was enough to prevent our light from being revealed. The soil of Babylon was simply not conducive to Israel’s Divine national mission.
The Persians had a different approach. Haman convinced his king to completely annihilate the Jews. As a descendent of Amalek, he could not stand to live in the same world as the Hebrew Nation. By removing the bearers of G-D’s light from the story, he believed he could succeed in snuffing out the Divine flame.
Greece did not try to remove the Jews from their borders nor did it initially attempt a physical destruction. Instead, the Seleucid Syrian-Greeks sought to attack Israel spiritually by lowering G-D’s Torah to the level of a human wisdom on par with other wisdoms of the time. Unsatisfied with their success, the Hellenists then sought to sever the Hebrew Nation from our Torah through harsh decrees and cultural pollution. The Torah’s Divinity was viewed as a threat to Greek philosophy, which valued human intellect above all else and could not tolerate wisdom beyond mortal comprehension.
Because the light of Torah was so far beyond their intellectual grasp and because it contradicted so many of their beliefs, the Hellenists felt a drive to uproot it from the world. They implemented tyrannical edicts, inciting Matityahu and his sons to revolt.
These three empires each attacked an essential ingredient to Israel fulfilling our purpose in Creation. The fourth kingdom, however, which first emerged as the Roman Empire and has since taken on numerous manifestations, is a combination of all three attempts in a much more destructive and concentrated form.
Throughout the last two thousand years, the Western world (Edom) has tried its hand at all three methods on countless occasions. Three recent examples are the terrible Holocaust in Europe less than a century ago, the British Empire restricting Jewish entry to our homeland and the Soviet Union forcibly separating its Jews from their Torah. The international community’s insistence on not permitting Israel to exert sovereignty over the whole of our country and the money spent by Western governments on diluting the State of Israel’s Jewish character are two modern expression of this evil force. A candle flickers brightest immediately before it is extinguished and today the forces of Edom stand ready to amass against Jerusalem, subconsciously aware that its own end is at hand. As Israel experiences a national rebirth on our native soil, the forces of evil are gathering all of their strength to wage a final war to stamp out our light. In the wake of Israel’s triumph, Edom’s iniquity will be exposed and mankind’s thinking will be liberated from the cultural tyranny of two thousand years. Concepts of good and truth will be elevated to meanings of newer and higher significance as Israel reclaims the mantle of guiding the world and revealing HaShem’s Oneness to all of mankind.
About the Author: Yehuda HaKohen teaches history at several Jerusalem institutions and is a seasoned activist for indigenous rights in the Middle East and a vocal opponent of attempts to shrink Israel's borders. Yehuda organizes grassroots Jewish-Arab dialogue meetings for the purpose of fostering mutual acceptance and understanding.
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