by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – November 15, 2015
On the holiday of Chanukah, observant Jews round the world declare their appreciation to G-d in the Shemona Esrei prayer: “For the miracles, and for the salvation, and for the mighty deeds, and for the victories, and for the battles which You performed for our forefathers in those days at this time. In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanan, the High Priest, the Hasmonean, and his sons, when the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to tray from the statutes of Your Will, You in Your great mercy stood up for them in the time of their distress. You took up their grievance, judged their claim and avenged their wrong. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the diligent students of Your Torah. For Yourself You made a great and holy Name in Your world, and for Your people Israel you worked a great victory and salvation as this very day. Thereafter, Your children came to the Holy of Holies of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified the site of Your Holiness and kindled lights in the Courtyards of Your Sanctuary; and they established these eight days of Chanukah to express thanks and praise to Your great Name.”
We express thanks and appreciation for the great miracles that G-d performed on our behalf at the time that the Greek Antiochus and his subjects had dominion over the Land of Israel. It was at this time that Antiochus expressed his disdain for the beliefs and practices that the Jews in the Land of Israel had kept since the time of Moses; and it was at this time that Antiochus expressed his disdain for our very lives. Antiochus attempted to wrest our age old beliefs from our midst and wrest the lives from those among us who would nevertheless adhere to those beliefs and practices handed down to their forebears by G-d through Moses. However, despite Antiochus’ wishes, his tremendous strength, his overwhelming number of followers and his excruciating cruelty, we were able to overcome him – because we have G-d in our corner. A small group of Jews steadfast in their beliefs, led by a holy man, was given the miraculous ability by G-d to overcome the otherwise naturally unconquerable forces of the Greek kingdom and its vicious ruler Antiochus.
Indeed, nations, even before Antiochus and the Greeks, and continuously since then – to this very day – have, in their disdain for our beliefs and practices and for our very lives, tried to vanquish us. From Pharaoh and the Egyptians to Nevuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, followed by Haman and the Persians and Titus and the Romans, Torquemada and the Crusaders and Chmelnitzki and the Cossacks, down to Hitler and the Nazis, the Jewish people have been continuously persecuted and the blood of our innocent brethren spilled freely in our synagogues and in our stores and in our streets. But we have G-d in our corner. In the face of the worst of odds, thanks to G-d, we have survived all our oppressors. And now Israel’s Arab neighbors since Jews began to set foot in numbers on the soil of the Land of Israel have been continuously attacking us and seeking our annihilation.
As regards our most recently declared foe, our Arab neighbors, many wonder as to what fuels their hatred towards us. Of course, many attempts have been made by liberals and anti-Semites of all persuasions to explain this phenomenon, but little true sense of any real significance has been actually shown. An intriguing commentary by the great medieval Torah exegete, Talmudist and kabbalist R. Moshe ben Nachman (1194 – 1270), known as Ramban or Nachmanides, though, may share some light on this question. We read in the Torah (Bereshit 16:6) concerning Hagar the mother of Yishmael, forefather of the Arab people, “And Sarah oppressed her, and she fled from before her face.” Ramban opines, in his commentary on the aforementioned verse, “Our mother [Sarah] sinned by this oppression and, also, Abraham by allowing her to do so; and G-d listened to her oppression and gave her a son who would be a wild-ass of a man to oppress the offspring of Abraham and Sarah with all forms of oppression.” Nevertheless, in his commentary on the following verse (Bereshit 16:9) wherein an Angel of G-d tells Hagar, “Return to your mistress and submit yourself under her hand,” Ramban explains that Hagar was instructed to “accept upon herself the authority of her mistress [Sarah], implying that she [Hagar] will not free herself from her [Sarah], for Sarah’s children will rule over her children forever.” We have G-d in our corner. No matter what gift He has granted Yishmael, G-d assures us, Ramban asserts, that it is destined to be trampled at our feet and authority is to remain in our hands.
As the Maccabees, in their steadfast adherence to G-d’s Will, were given the strength by G-d, to overcome their Greek oppressors and squelch their cruel intentions and actions, when our very survival as a Jewish nation was in danger, and as the Jewish people, steadfastly adhering to our beliefs and practices, were granted by Divine benevolence to overcome and survive the oppression of mighty foes before the Greeks and after the Greeks that threatened our existence, so Ramban assures us that we will continue to overcome our current foes. Even those today among our Arab neighbors who are intent at our destruction cannot and will not succeed – because we have G-d in our corner.