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Chanukah: Then And Now

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On the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev, over twenty-one hundred years ago, the Temple in Jerusalem was rededicated after it was wrenched from the hands of the defiling Greeks. Thus ended a war no one planned or even dreamed could happen.

To understand the miracle of the few against the many, and the pure against the defiled, we can go back to the famous young Macedonian/Greek conqueror, Alexander the Great. Bursting out of the Greek islands he never stopped, defeating Persian armies five times his size, and pushed right on to India. He would have gone further had he not died at age thirty-two, totally burnt out after declaring himself a God, and apparently never leaving the fast lane in his personal and public life.

It should be said that when he came upon Yerushalayim and was prepared to add it to his list of conquests, he had a historic meeting with the head of the Sanhedrin and Shimon HaTzaddik.

It is said that the young conqueror dismounted and bowed down to this High Priest of the Temple of the true God. As a result of this meeting, Yerushalayim was spared.

With the passing of the undisputed leader, however things began to get out of hand.

The vast empire was divided into three parts by his generals – and they began an unending series of wars amongst themselves. Ptolemies in Egypt and the Seleucids in Syria established impressive Hellenistic centers, and Greek culture was copied by all the peoples from Egypt to Babylon. Well, almost all the peoples!

The Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael were not enamored of the glitter or power of Hellenistic culture. The Greeks were patient. All peoples finally came around to embracing their “superior” ways. The Jews would too, they believed. In fact some did. Referred to as Hellenists, they were Jews at home and Greeks in the office and at the gym. In fact since the all important sports contests were done in the nude, celebrating the perfect body, some Jews felt uncomfortable with their circumcisions; cosmetic surgery allowed them then to pass.

Things were actually going just the way the Greeks predicted, when in the year 169 BCE, the Seleucids under Antiochus Epiphanies were chased out of Egypt and a victory against his Ptolemy rivals was denied.

Antiochus vented his humiliation and frustration at the Jews of Eretz Yisrael as he retreated across their territory. He sacked Yerushalayim, plundered the Temple, and, at the advice of Jewish Hellenists, enacted laws that would ensure all his subjects finally “go Greek.”

Thus began the draconian and humiliating anti-Jewish laws and the defilement of the Bais HaMikdash, including sacrifice of pigs to Zeus and harlotry where the priests performed the holy service. Women gave their lives to circumcise their babies. Jews caught studying Torah were burned alive in the scrolls.

Antiochus was determined to make the Jews into good Hellenists and help them “see the light.”

But then, for the first time in history, a small nation (in fact a small part of a small nation) raised the banner of revolt against a world power in a bid for religious freedoms.

When the Greek soldiers and their Jewish Hellenistic allies came to one of the rural villages to enforce the king’s edicts, and have the villagers bow down to his image, an old man said no! Matisyahu the Kohen simply said no. As the soldiers were about to make an example of him, his five sons stood and ensured those soldiers did not make ti home. “He who is for God, follow me!” The revolt was on.

In the beginning, the Jews would not fight on Shabbos, but after a group of one thousand men women and children would not come out of a cave to fight on the Sabbath and were smoked to death by the Greeks, Matisyahu decreed that it was permissible to violate Shabbos in this war against the forces of evil.

Villagers flocked to them and soon a large guerrilla force, led by the old man and his sons, were routing professional and well-armed armies, many times their size. When Matisyahu died, his son, Yehuda HaMacabee(The Hammer) led the Jews. This son became the worst nightmare of the best Greek generals.

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