We are approaching the holiday of Chanukah. When one thinks of this joyous time they might think of the miracle of finding the untouched can of oil that was only enough to light the Menorah for one day, and the miracle of it lasting 8 days, or one might think of the brave and heroic Maccabees who fought off the entire Greek army. Of course everyone will also be thinking of the delicious donuts and latkes that we love to eat and all the Chanukah parties and gifts that we will receive.
How many of us think of a female figure having to do with this holiday? How many of us think of the heroin Yehudit and the heroic act she did to save all the Jewish people, especially the women? This is the story of Yehudit.
Yehudit was the daughter of Yochanan, kohen gadol, a young virtuous widow of great beauty and wisdom. She lived alone in Bet-Aliah on the northern tip of the hills of the Shomron. The Greco-Syrian forces led by Helifornes, the general of Antioches was victoriously marching towards Jerusalem and they found Bet-Aliah to be an obstacle in their way. They decided to place the town under siege and cut off the town’s water supply.
In addition to the brutal assault against the Jewish people, they issued many harsh decrees as well. One such decree was destructive of the very foundation of the Jewish family. All brides were required to sleep with a Greek military officer before they could marry their husbands. These were young Jewish women who were as alive, intelligent and talented as any Jewish woman today. They were in love with their soon-to-be husbands and each had to submit herself to the lusts of a Greek soldier before she could marry. Defy the law, and she could be killed.
As Yehudit was of a very prominent family, a daughter of the high priest of the holy temple, and a woman, she couldn’t stand still and let all those innocent Jewish families shatter at such immoral requests by the evil Greeks.
She believed strongly in G-d’s traits of good and holiness in the world and was filled with faith and belief that G-d wouldn’t let her down. She told the elders of the town that there was no reason to surrender and they should have more faith in G-d. Yehudit asked the elders for permission to leave the town and go approach the camp of the enemy. The elders were shocked but she was granted permission.
Later that evening, dressed in her finery, Yehudit approached the enemy camp and asked to see the general. Helifornes was so bedazzled by her beauty that he honored her with an invitation to a feast in his tent.
According to the Midrash, during the banquet Yehudit served him and his attendants salted cheese which caused them to be excessively thirsty. They promptly made use of the heavily intoxicating beverages she offered them. Having succeeded in luring Helifornes and his attendants into a drunken stupor, Yehudit assassinated her people’s enemy. She approached Helifornes, and with a sword concealed under her robe, severed his head. Then she departed swiftly from the camp, carrying the severed head of Israel’s archenemy back to her own people.
On the ramparts of Bet-Aliah, Yehudit and her trophy were greeted with great jubilance.
The following dawn when Helifornes’ forces beheld the severed head of their general triumphantly displayed above the gate of the Jewish city, they fled in panic. Bet-Aliah, the Shomron and the Judean approaches to Yerushalayim were safe, and Yehudit, whose extraordinary wisdom and sheer courage accomplished this, entered the pages of not only Jewish history but world history as well, as a role model in heroism. The Jews were inspired by the daring heroism of Yehudit, and the Greek forces retreated. This was a key turning point in the Jewish revolt against the Greeks.
As a Jewish woman I feel that it is very important to retell this story over and over again, and remind all Jewish people of the powerful act that Yehdit performed. Not only the physical act which is hard to fathom, but the strong faith and courage that she had above the great men and elders of her times. It is written that because of righteous women the redemption will come again soon. This is so true since women have the ability to see beyond the technical hardships and believe that there is another way. Salvation will come no matter how hopeless things might seem. Yehudit also saw what the elderly saw, that the enemy is greater than them and surrender was imminent. But she, as the daughter of the high priest whose whole existence is the worshiping of G-d in the holy of holies, was brought up with the belief in that which the naked eyes cannot see. The holy priests work in the holy temple was beyond what the eyes can see. It was all about belief in G-d’s dwelling place and G-d’s greatness, and bringing that belief to the people of Israel. This greater belief in G-d s endless power and love of his people was instilled in Yehudit, and with that power of G-d within her she was able to act as she did.
May we as Jewish people, and especially those of us, women, take this strong belief in G-d’s power, and let that power guide us to the speedy redemption soon in our day.