Fable? Fact? Miracle? Chanukah Story

The tradition of the celebration of Chanukah has evolved over the past 22 centuries into what is today an important celebration within Judaism, but not a high holiday.  Many liken it to the Christian Christmas.  Except for the fact that both have become commercialized over the centuries, they aren’t even close in comparison, even if they fall close to each other on the Gregorian calendar.

Approximately 22 centuries ago (BCE200), or about the time of Alexander the Great, in the time of the second temple, the Jewish people had returned from exile to the land of Israel.  Having returned from Babylonian exile, they were nonetheless still under the imperial powers of, first, Persia (Iran), and then Alexander the Great.  Though there is little historical mention of Alexander the Great having dealings with the Jewish people, there is mention in the book of Daniel referring to a “king who will rule with great domination, and whose kingdom will fall after his death.”  Further mention is made in the apocryphal book of Maccabees. (The Apocryphal books fall at a time somewhere between the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible)

The Jewish historian Josephus tells the story of Jaddua, the high priest of the Jews, meeting Alexander the Great after the latter had conquered Gaza.  In this meeting Alexander the Great is said to have given reverence to G-d upon seeing Jaddua, who was said to be wearing a helmet with the name of G-d on it.  Much to the shock of his commanders and armies, Alexander stated that each time he went into battle, he had a vision of this high priest who would lead his people to victory.  Rather than destroy the Jewish people, out of respect for their religious powers, Alexander was said to have been kind to the Jews.  He even forgave them their taxes during Sabbatical years, and he was known to provide animals for sacrifice in the Jewish Temple.

The Talmud (Oral Law) tells a different story of Alexander MuKdon, or Macedonian in Yoma 69a, which is the same as Megillat Ta’anit, iii:

“When the Samaritans had obtained permission from Alexander to destroy the Temple in Jerusalem, the high priest Simon the Just, arrayed in his pontifical garments and followed by a number of distinguished Jews, went out to meet the conqueror, and joined him at Antipatris, on the northern frontier. At sight of Simon, Alexander fell prostrate at his feet, and explained to his astonished companions that the image of the Jewish high priest was always with him in battle, fighting for him and leading him to victory. Simon took the opportunity to justify the attitude of his countrymen, declaring that, far from being rebels, they offered prayers in the Temple for the welfare of the king and his dominions. So impressed was Alexander that he delivered up all the Samaritans in his train into the hands of the Jews, who tied them to the tails of horses and dragged them to the mountain of Gerizim; then the Jews plowed the mountain [demolished the Samaritan temple].”

Read more: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=1120&letter=A#ixzz16okJAYsS

 After the death of Alexander, and through the rule of Seleucides, the Jewish people pretty much existed status quo.  They thrived in the land of Israel.  All this changed under the rule of King Antiochus IV.  This king would wage a war with Israel that would not only kill many Jews, but it would threaten the very tenets of their religion and their spiritual existence.

Jews would eventually become very ingrained in the practices and lifestyle of the Greeks.  They would become set in the ways of the Greek culture almost to the total loss of their own. The Jews who turned away from their Jewish tradition are known as the Hellenists. There was very little fight put up when Antiochus desecrated the Jewish temple and placed an idol of the Greek god Zeus upon the Altar, the most holy spot in the Temple.  The Jews were forced to bow to Zeus, refusal leading to the penalty of death.  The Jews were also forbidden to honour their most sacred traditions such as observing the Sabbath. 

Much to the chagrin of even his own people, Antiochus declared himself to be god. He went so far as to change his name to Antiochus The Devine (Epiphanies).

Many of the Hellenists, Jews who converted or followed the Greek traditions, changed their names.  One such Hellenist changed his name from the Hebrew name Joshua to Jason.  After the Jewish temple had been raided and the holy artifacts had been stolen, Jason used some of these valuable artifacts to bribe Antiochus into naming him, Jason, the High Priest of Israel.  This act of deposing a High Priest and a goy king naming a high priest spelled the end of the temple priesthood as it had been known.  Of course, as in any good story, Jason didn’t last long as High Priest.

While he was high priest, Jason coerced the Jewish people into taking part in the pagan practices of the Greeks.  It is these practices that G-d forbade the Jews to be involved with in the Torah (Written Law, the Christian Pentateuch{first five books of the Bible}).  Another Hellenist, Menelaus, approached Antiachus and again, using the gold cups stolen from the temple as a bribe, convinced him to depose Jason and make him, Menelaus high priest.

When Jason heard of this he rose up against Melenaus.  The civil war resulted in the deaths of many Jews and Greeks alike.  Antiochus saw this civil dispute as a challenge to his own authority.  He sent his armies against Israel, once again pilfering the temple and murdering tens of thousands of Jews.  All throughout Israel statues of the Greek gods and godesses were erected.  Jews were forced to take part in pagan celebrations and ceremonies, all of which were abhorrent to G-d.

A small clan under the patronage of Mattityahu, in Modhi`im (Only mentioned in the book of Maccabees – Possibly the lower mainland of Philistia), decided they would not bow down to the Greek gods.  They would not partake in any of the Greek practices.  Standing before the Greek Soldiers and any who were following the Greek traditions, with his five sons, the armies of the Hasmonean tribe (Priests), Mattityahu called’ “All who are of G-d follow me.”  They then retreated to the hills to build an army to stand before and conquer Antiochus.

With the line from the psalms (Ps 89:8) “Yahweh, God of Armies, who is a mighty one, like you?” emblazoned on the breast plates, the Maccabees (knowns as such as they were now under the command of Mattityahu’s Son, Maccabee), an army of only 6ooo, defeated the Syrian army of 47,000.  This infuriated Antiochus. He waged an even bigger battle with a larger army at Bet Tzur.  Once again the small army of the Maccabees defeated a goliath sized army.  After this battle the Maccabees marched into Jerusalem and, as the priests they were, regained control of the temple.  After removing all the idols, cleaning the place up they prepared to once again make sacrifices to G-d in their Holy Temple.

One of the most important practices in Temple Worship was the kindling of the lights of the menorah.  For this practice they could only use the Sacred consecrated Olive Oils.  Unfortunately they only had one day’s worth of the oil available.  Making more oil would take at least 8 days.  The Jewish people were so happy to be back in their temple, they decided to light the menorah and re-dedicate the Temple regardless of the shortage.

Miraculously the menorah stayed lit and shone brightly for eight days from one day’s worth of oil.  This miracle was a testament to the power of the faith of the Jewish people.

The following year the Sages (Wise men and teachers) declared the celebration of Chanukah, Festival of Light or The Festival of Dedication, which was to last eight days.  The eight days, of course, reminding us of the miracle recognized when one day’s worth of sacred olive oil, kept the bright lights of the menorah kindled for 8 days.

So each year, commencing on the 25th day (Sundown on the 24th day) of the month of Kislev we celebrate for 8 days with food (mostly cooked in oils), gifts and games of chance (played with dreidels and chocolates as money).

Happy Chanukah! (5771)

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