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12 posts from December 2011

Judah Maccabee at West Point

By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, from Israel Hayom via our dear friend Ted Belman and Israpundit

The legacy of Hanukkah – faith, patriotism, defiance of extreme odds and tenacity in the battle of liberty against tyranny – has underlined the American spirit since the early pilgrims, enhancing the unique foundation of the U.S.-Israel covenant: shared values.

For instance, the statue of Judah the Maccabee, the hero of the Jewish rebellion against the Syrian-Seleucid Empire, is displayed at the West Point Military Academy, the most prestigious U.S. military academy, founded in 1802. The statue of Judah the Maccabee, known for his principle-driven leadership and daring battle tactics, is displayed along with the statues of Joshua, David, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Hector, King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon – “the Nine Worthies.”

George Washington became acquainted with the spirit of the Maccabees, upon settling, in December (Hanukkah) 1777, at his new headquarters at Valley Forge, Penn., with ill-equipped, weary troops. Faced with a superpower, George III of Britain, Washington concluded that only a dramatic change could avoid a defeat. According to the diary entries of Louisa Hart, Washington told the Harts about a Jewish solider at Valley Forge who lit a Hanukkah candle and explained its significance. Washington’s reaction was: "Perhaps we are not as lost as our enemies would have us believe. I rejoice in the Maccabees' success, though it is long past ... It pleases me to think that miracles still happen." Six months later, on June 19, 1778, the Continental Army implemented the battle tactics of Judah the Maccabee, leaving Valley Forge in pursuit of the British, who were moving toward New York. Although the war would linger for five more years, Washington won a decisive victory.

Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were inspired by the Maccabees, proposing "Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God" as the American official seal. Just like the Founding Fathers, the Maccabees were a tiny minority of “rebels” - condemned by the "loyalist/pragmatist" Jewish establishment - rebelling against an oppressive superpower. They prevailed thanks to their conviction-driven determination. They knew that swimming against the stream gets one closer to the source. The Maccabees were a role model for Paul Revere, who was referred to as "a modern day Maccabee" and the organizers of the Boston Tea Party, who realized that there were no free lunches for freedom-seeking nations.

"In God We Trust" was inspired, also, by the Maccabees’ battle cry, which adopted Moses’ battle cry against the builders of the Golden Calf. A literal translation of the battle cry is “Whoever trusts God; join me!” The Maccabees' sacrifice and lack of political correctness also inspired Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death!"

In 2011, Hanukkah is still a living experience in the U.S. For example, the residents of Billings, Mont. celebrate Hanukkah in solidarity with the Jewish community of 40 families, and in protest of the 1993 vandals who broke the windows of Jewish homes that displayed Hanukkah menorahs. In response, more than 10,000 of the city’s residents put makeshift menorahs in their own windows. They persist, annually, in this ritual.

Hanukkah and the Maccabees have become an integral part of the American way of life, culturally and politically. Americans respect the legacy of the Maccabees, who fought the Syrian-Seleucid super-power, mostly, in the mountains of Judea and Samaria, in the Judean Desert and in Jerusalem. Judah the Maccabee’s own Valley Forge was at Beit El; his capital was Jerusalem; he scored dramatic victories in Beit Horon (over Seron), Hadashah (over Nicanor), Beit Zur (over Lysias) and Ma’aleh Levona (over Apolonius); he was defeated at Elazar and killed at Ba’al Hatzor – all are located beyond the “1967 Lines.”

The descendants of the Maccabees are not "occupiers" in the cradle of their own history. Hanukkah is not a holiday of "occupation," but a holiday of deliverance. Hanukkah is a holiday which highlights the moral high ground of Jews in their ancestral homeland.

Shimon the Maccabee - who succeeded Judah and Yonatan the Maccabees – articulated the Jewish territorial case when responding to an ultimatum by Antiochus, who demanded an end to the Jewish “occupation” of Jerusalem, Jaffa, Gaza, Gezer and Ekron: "We have not occupied a foreign land; we have not ruled a foreign land; we have liberated the land of our forefathers from foreign occupation," Shimon said.

Pressuring the Jewish state to withdraw from the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria defies the American story. Either you are with George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and other defenders of liberty, or you provide – inadvertently – a tailwind to the forces of tyranny.

The Story of Chana Maccabee

Tamar Yonah from Israel National Radio asked me to check out the authenticity of the following Midrash, a real eye-opener that describes the outbreak of the Hasmonian Rebellion and the marriage of Channa, daughter of Mattatyahu the High Priest (Cohen Gadol):

As part of their campaign to break the spirit of the Jews, the Greeks decreed that every maiden must spend her wedding night in the bed of the regional governor, and that only afterward would she be permitted to her husband. As a result of this decree, the Jews stopped marrying. For three years and three months, no wedding was held in Judea. Then it came time for Channa, daughter of Mattityahu the Hasmonean to marry. In spite of the decree, Mattityahu held a great celebration, inviting the leaders of the nation, for Mattatyahu's family was extremely prominent. The bride sat, as was customary, at the head table, but suddenly stood up, clapped her hands together, and tore her expensive wedding dress, exposing herself. Everyone looked away in embarrassment, and her brothers ran to fall upon her and kill her for shaming herself and her family.

But Channa said to them, "Why, when I shame myself before my relatives and friends are you so filled with embarrassment and anger that you wish to kill me, but you agree to surrender me this night so the heathen governor can lie with me? Why do you not learn from Simon and Levy, sons of our forefather Jacob, who avenged the rape of their sister Dinah (in Genesis, chapter 34)?"

Everyone realized that Channa was right; her brothers discussed the matter and came to a decision. They dressed their sister in the finest garments and brought her with great ceremony, at the head of a large procession, to the King. Channa's brothers declared, "We are the sons of the High Priest, and it is not fitting that our sister be given to the governor. Our sister is fit only for the King himself!" The brothers' words found favor in the King's eyes.

The Maccabbee brothers - Yehuda, Yochanan, Yonatan, Shimon, and Eliezer - accompanied Channa to the royal bed chamber, and thereupon, seized the King and killed him. Afterward, they stormed out killing ministers, guards, and servants, who were in the palace. And Hashem delivered the enemy into their hands. At that time, a voice [bat kol] was heard in the Holy of Holies that said, "The lambs [Israel] are victorious in Antioch [Greek HQ in ancient Israel]".

* * * * *

The original in Hebrew appears here on the website of Rav Yosef Shuvali's Yeshivat Tikkun Hamidot, a superb Breslever Yeshiva for baalei teshuva in the Haifa area. The Midrash appears in Part One of Midrash Otzar Tov and in Part 5 of Midrash Bet HaMidrash. This certainly appears to be the real deal. Happy Chanuka!

PS: If they had any brains, Hollywood screenwriters would be studying our Midrash.

Chanukah Gifts from the Heart

With the economic squeeze, people are worried about what they're going to buy their loved ones for Chanukah this year.

First of all, there's no mitzva on Chanukah to exchange gifts.

Second, the best gifts aren't material.

The greatest gift you can bestow on another human being is empathy and a non-judgmental, listening ear. People forget material gifts, but they don't forget the time, patience, and understanding you accorded them. The best gifts originate in the heart, not in the wallet.