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The Emunah of the Maccabim

By Shoshana Rozenberg

Every holiday that we celebrate as Jews is sourced somewhere in Tanach. Even Purim, one of the two holidays that are derabanan is sourced in Megillas Esther, in the twenty-four books of Tanach. Chanuka, the other derabanan holiday, is the only holiday we see with no source in Tanach. Rather, we learn about the holiday from a book called Sefer Hamacabim. In the Chanuka story, unlike in the Purim story, there are two psukim from the Torah used by two of the key players, Matisyahu ben Yochanan Kohen Gadol and his son Yehuda.

The first pasuk is “Mi Chamocha Ba’aylim Hashem” (Shemos 15:11) used by Yehuda as his title, through the use of the first letter of each word to come up with the word, HaMaCaBI. The second pasuk “Mi LaHashem Aylai” (Shemos 32:26) was used by Matisyahu to call the Jews to action. The use of these two psukim, specifically, proves the immense Bitachon that the Chashmonaim had in Hashem that He would save them. If we look at the sources of these psukim in the chumash, we see that they both came as a reaction to something. Bnei Yisrael sang the verse “Mi chamocha” in Az Yashir as they were crossing the Yam Suf. Az Yashir was sung as a praise to Hashem after Bnei Yisrael had experienced all of the miracles Hashem had performed in Mitzrayim, referring to the makkos,  the yam suf, and everything else and  now they were recognizing that. Rav Hirsch and Sforno both explain that Bnie Yisrael were realizing that there are people that idolize Nature but that THEY serve Hashem, the Hashem Who can go above nature and ignore the rules that He put in place if He so chooses. Ohr Hachaim explains that when a human king fights in a war, you can’t differentiate between him and his soldiers, but when Hashem is fighting for Bnei Yisrael, it’s easily recognizable that something miraculous is going on.

Yehuda Hamacabi named his army the Maccabim long before the public acknowledgement of Hashem’s ‘help’. The Chashmonaim only tasted victory after 26 years of intensive guerrilla warfare and by that point Yehuda and three of his brothers were dead. The Chashmonaim demonstrated their Emunah through their ability to praise Hashem long before anyone was able to physically see the miracles Hashem would perform. What we read today in Bimei Matisyahu, Shemoneh Esrei, and Birkat Hamazon, about the deliverance of the “strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few…” Yehuda never got to see with his own eyes. But through the tremendous bitachon and Emunah in Hashem that his father instilled in him, he knew that salvation would definitely come.

Even before Yehuda called himself a Maccabee, his father, Matisyahu ben Yochanan Kohen Gadol called the righteous Jews to action with the battle cry that Moshe Rabbeinu used generations earlier right after Chet Haegel. Ramban explains that through the sin at Har Sinai, Bnei Yisrael made a massive Chillul Hashem and were therefore scorned by their enemies. Moshe immediately went about rectifying the problem by calling the Leviim to combat to kill those who served the calf publicly and made a chillul Hashem. Matisyahu had the same visceral reaction upon seeing a Jew ready to serve Avodah Zara, he killed him publicly and called the still-righteous Jews to combat.  The Chashmonaim weren’t waging war with the Yevanim on a physical level; they were going after the Misyavnim, those Jews who were being enveloped by Greek culture, on a spiritual level. Just like his forefather, Matisyahu waged war with the dissenters and made a tremendous Kiddush Hashem. Rav Hirsch puts what Moshe did beautifully by saying “the immediate necessity was to establish again out of the midst of the people respect for the Law and representatives for the Law who would stand up for it.” In Moshe’s time this was shevet Levi and again in the time of Chanuka it was Matisyahu, from Shevet Levi, who led the pack.

Shevet Levi was always the leader in staying pure, but there were others who followed them and fought for what they believed in. Today, as the minority, the religious Jews need to stay strong and combat their enemies. The Chashmonaim weren’t the ordinary Jews who went about their day minding their own business. They were the extraordinary. Today, when the level of assimilation is so high, there is no room for people to be minding their own business. We need to stand up for what we believe in and through that we can merit seeing the next Bais Hamikdash, just as they did, speedily in our days.

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