The Hasmonean Decision Rabbi Yitzchak Shapiro

The Hasmonean family took upon itself the historic decision to fight against Greece in the name of the Jewish People when actually there was no widespread public support for such a move!

Hanukkah falls out exactly when we read the Torah portions about Yosef and his brothers. The Shla"h writes that there is definitely a connection between each holiday and the Torah portions read at its time of year. "Certainly the cycle of holidays throughout the year … every one has a connection to the parashiyot on which it falls out, because everything is from the hand of Hashem. Thus Yoseph will also be understood in light of the Hasmonean kingdom in the Greek era."

 Parashat Vayeshev opens a new chapter in Jewish history. After a "sifting process" in the offspring of Avraham and Yitzhak – which "sifted out" Yishmael and Esav – the "House of Israel" begins to rise from the offspring of Ya'akov, the twelve "tribes of G-d". Nevertheless, the contentions still continue, and now they are within the House of Israel, between Yosef and his brothers.

 The arduous internal struggle between Yosef and his brothers reminds us to a certain extent of the Hasmonean wars against the Greek Empire. Alongside the campaign against the Greeks, there was a fierce internal conflict within the Jewish People (most of which we know about from extra-Biblical and extra-Talmudic sources).

The Hasmonean Decision 

As is well known, a sizable portion of the Jewish People absorbed Greek culture and was influenced by it before the Revolt broke out. Those Hellenists didn't want at all to rebel against the powerful Greek empire, and some of them even actively supported her throughout the war years.

 Against this background, we can appreciate the great responsibility that Matityahu took upon himself. It's nothing so simple to declare war on the ruling Greek empire, the great and mighty super-power with a large modern army at its disposal. The decision is difficult tenfold in such a situation, when a huge portion of the Jews sides with the Greeks.

 The Hasmonean family took upon itself the historic decision to fight against Greece in the name of the Jewish People when actually there was no widespread public support for such a move!

The Source of the Strength

 From where did Matityahu and his sons get the courage and the authority to do such a thing, entangling the entire Jewish People in war?

 From the viewpoint of Matityahu and his sons, it's quite clear where the Jewish "center of gravity" is. The concept of "the Jewish People" is not the sum total of all the Jews living here and now, with their thoughts and desires. Public opinion polls can determine what the Jews want at any given time, and those statistics can show a medium and a mean. … but the truth is that the Jews living here today, as they are, constitute only individuals of the Jewish People. They belong to the Jewish People; the Jewish People does not belong to them!

 The "Jewish center of gravity" is determined by Divine Truth from Hashem, Creator of All and Giver of the Torah, and the Jews are the ones who need to conform to that Truth. Therefore the Hasmoneans, those holy Cohanim faithful to Hashem and His Torah, mitzvoth, and Temple, can act in the name of the Jewish People and represent it. They keep the spirit of Israel like the pure container of oil sealed by the High Priest.

 In that fashion Matityahu pulls the Jews into a conflict with the great Greek empire and its culture, when actually the majority of them are ambivalent. In the same fashion he pulls them into an internal conflict, with those following the Greek culture cooperating with the government against the rebellious cohanim.

The Victory Over the Greek Empire

 After all this, let's remind ourselves again how Hanukkah and the Hasmonean victory were established for posterity by our Sages. The entire internal struggle against the Hellenists is almost totally hidden, wrapped away in a corner, and the Victory is commemorated as a triumph over the Greeks! "In the days of Matityahu … when the evil Greek Empire stood up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah … and in Your great mercy You stood up for them in their time of trouble, fought their fight … avenged their vengeance, delivered the strong into the hands of the weak…" The praise and thanksgiving are for the freedom from the yoke of the Greek Empire, to give thanks for defeating the evil and wicked Greeks.

 Thus we learn, even though an internal conflict developed in which the Hasmoneans needed to combat the Greek sympathizers from within, nevertheless the comparison between the Greeks and the Hellenists is only superficial. In reality a great abyss lies between them. In spite of everything, all Jews remain brethren and the internal conflict has nothing to do with the Grecian war. The Greek Empire carries the banner of the impure culture we combat, but the Hellenist Jews were pulled into that culture which in reality comes to war against them, too! Even if in practice the Maccabees needed to fight the Hellenists, a deeper look reveals both of them on the same side opposite the evil Greek Empire.

 The principles of a domestic struggle within Jewry, no matter how sharp, can be learned from Yosef the Tzaddik. Even when he needed to contend with his brothers, his goal was always rectification and construction, to cause his brothers to realize their mistake and return to the good.

 Now the Hanukkah candles will glow with a new light. Hasidut explains that the candles represent the souls of the Jewish People. At first it seemed that only a small and insignificant part of the Jewish Nation had pure oil fit for lighting in the Temple, but afterwards it turned out that that oil had a "sown light" to enlighten all Jewish souls by pure oil "before Hashem always."

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