Chanukah, Chutzpah, and Coming Close to G-d
by Rabbi Yehudah Prero
In the song Maoz Tzur that we traditionally sing after the Chanukah candles
are lit, we find the following stanza: "Greeks gathered against me then in the
days of the Hashmoneans, they breached the walls of my towers and defiled all
the oils." Where do we find a breaching of a wall that is of significance?
Rav Gedalia Schorr explains that we see in a Mishna (Midos 2:3) that in the
Temple, there was a wall in the courtyard called the Soreg. The Mishna writes
that the Greek kings breached the Soreg in 13 places, and when the Jews
rebuilt it, the Sages decreed that the nation should bow across from these 13
locations. Rav YomTov Heller, in his explanation of the Mishna, explains the
function of the Soreg and why this was a specific target of the Greeks. The
Soreg delineated the area into which non-Jews were permitted entry into the
Temple. Non-Jews were allowed to come to the Temple to pray to G-d and to
bring sacrifices, but they could not continue past the Soreg. Only those of
the Jewish nation were permitted further, as they carried with them a
different level of spirituality, "Kedusha." The Greeks were not against the
existence of the Holy Temple. However, they were against any distinction made
between them or any other nation and the Jewish people. They therefore
breached the barrier placed in the Temple specifically for that purpose.
Why were 13 prostrations established by the Sages? Rav Schorr explains that
they represent G-d's 13 Attributes of Mercy mentioned in the Torah (Shmos
34:6-7 ) The Talmud tells us that each one of us should try and emulate G-d.
Just as G-d is compassionate and gracious (two of the 13 attributes) so too
must we be compassionate and gracious. Each individual has the capacity to
cling to G-d, to emulate His ways to the extent that we are like one with Him.
Bowing is a sign of submission. The Sages established the prostrations to show
that we submit ourselves to G-d, that we try to be like Him, that we try to
emulate His 13 attributes. It was this submission that the Greeks tried to
uproot. By breaching the wall, they tried to eradicate this special
relationship and put all on equal footing. The Sages therefore established
that for each breach, each demonstration by the Greeks that there was no
submission to G-d, the Jewish people should bow and display that our special
relationship with G-d does indeed exist.
Rav Schorr continues to state that the Greeks epitomized the trait of boldness
(azus). Those who are bold, he writes, are not willing to submit to anyone or
anything. They will not express thanks nor gratitude, nor feel indebtedness to
anyone. It is this character trait that the Greeks tried to instill in the
Jews. By breaching the wall, they tried to assure that the Jews would not feel
any special connection with G-d. The submission that the Jews exemplified was
diametrically opposed to the boldness of the Greeks. The Greeks tried to break
up the relationship between the Jews and G-d. They did not succeed.
However, it is interesting that the very trait which led to the Hashmonean's
victory against the Greeks was that of boldness. The Mishna (Avos 5:23)
writes: One should be as bold as a leopard . . . in order to carry out the
will of your Father in Heaven." The Chidushei HaRim explains that in truth,
the leopard has no special degree of strength. Rather, its boldness allows it
to enter situations that others of the same strength might cower away from.
So, too, must we act in our service of G-d. We may think that we do not have
the strength to stand up to others, to our evil inclination. The Mishna tells
us that we must allow the boldness within us to come out and meet the
challenges which we think are beyond us head on. If we take the initiative in
our service of G-d, G-d will be there to supply the strength we need to
The Hashmoneans saw the boldness of the Greeks. It was demonstrated to them
vividly when the Greeks breached the Soreg in the Temple. The Hashmoneans knew
that they were clearly not strong enough to wage a victorious battle against
the Greeks. What they had to do was fight fire with fire. They gathered
together their boldness, and motivated themselves to believe that they did not
have to be subjugated to the Greeks. They did not have to answer to the
Greeks. They had to fight so that they could continue the service of G-d and
maintain their close relationship with Him. They did fight, and because they
mustered the courage to do so, G-d helped them and they were victorious.
Chanukah is a time when we can reflect on the relationship we have with G-d.
Some time has passed since the High Holidays. Have we stuck to our resolutions
for the new year? Have we become better people? Have we fallen back into the
same rut we were in before Rosh HaShana? If we find that we have not come
closer to G-d and that our emulation of G-d leaves much to be desired, we need
not become despondent. Even if we feel that the goals which have set for
ourselves our beyond our reach, the memory of the Hashmonean's victory is
there. If we channel our boldness properly, if we attempt to overcome
unsurmountable hurdles, G-d will be there to supply the strength we need.
"Chutzpah," can be very Jewish, and can be very Greek. On Chanukah, we should
make sure that we remember the fortitude of the Hasmoneans, and strengthen our
relationship with G-d the same way they did.
Check out all of the posts on Chanukah. Head over to
http://www.torah.org/learning/yomtov/ to access the YomTov Page.
Then click on the icon for the holiday of your choice.
For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.