Thursday, December 15, 2011

CHANUKA: Celebrating Jewish victories

In the days of the second bet haMiqdash (Holy Temple in Jerusalem),  there were many holidays, besides Chanuka, that celebrated the military victories of the Macabeem (or Chashmonayim) over the powerful Greek army. Some of them were: the 13th of Adar, when the Jews celebrated "Yom Niqanor", because in that day the Macabeem defeated the large army of the Greek general Niqanor. The 14th of Nisan, when they recovered the city of Ceasarea. The 22nd of Elul, when the Chashmonayim brought to justice those who betrayed them joining the enemy's army (meshumadim). The 22nd of Shebat, the day that Antiochus himself came with his powerful army and surrounded Yerushalaim with the intention of destroying it and killing all the Jews. That day, news came to Antiochus about the Parthian rebellion against him in the capital city of his Empire. Antiochus was forced to abandon his plans against the Jews. He took his army back to Greece where he was defeated and killed.    All these minor holidays were mentioned in the famous Meguilat Ta'anit.     

After the destruction of the second Bet haMiqdash, in the year 68 ACE (some say: 70 ACE) the Rabbis thought that there was no reason to celebrate previous victories, while we are enslaved, defeated and in exile. They suspended all the practical matters brought on Meguilat Ta'anit (batela meguilat ta'anit) and indicated that the only Holiday that should still be celebrated was Chanuka, because of the miracle of the oil.  Accordingly, Chanuka's celebration does not emphasize the military aspect but mainly the miracle of the oil. That is why we celebrate Chanuka by lighting the candles. Still, during Chanuka's prayers ('al hanisim) we mention the victories of the Macabeem and we recite the Halel, thanking HaShem for delivering our ancestors from their more powerful enemies.