The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
Student Summaries of Sichot of the Roshei Yeshiva
miketz shabbat chanuka
HARAV YAAQOV MEDAN SHLIT"A
Avraham, Gidon, and the Hasmoneans
Makkabim recounts the evil actions of the Greeks: they institute pagan
sacrifices in the Temple and establish altars for idolatry throughout the cities
of Judea. When they reach the town of Modi'in, they invite Matityahu whom they
view as an important public figure to be the first to offer a sacrifice upon
the altar. Matityahu refuses, another Jew offers a sacrifice in his stead,
Matityahu slays him on the spot, as Pinchas had done hundreds of years
previously, and then he destroys the altar. Following this, Matityahu is garbed
with the divine spirit and calls upon the people to join him:
A Jewish man came, in
the sight of all, to sacrifice on the altar which was at Modi'in, according to
the king's command. And Matityahu saw this, and he was filled with zeal, and his
reins trembled, and he cast forth his rage according to judgment, and he ran and
slew him upon the altar. And also the king's commissioner, who was compelling
[Jews] to sacrifice he killed him too, at that time, and he pulled down the
altar. He was zealous for the Torah, as Pinchas had done towards Zimri, son of
Salu. Matityahu cried out in the city with a loud voice, saying: "Whoever is
zealous for the Torah, and maintains the covenant let him follow me!" (I
The story of Matityahu is reminiscent, in many ways, of a similar
narrative from Sefer Shoftim the story of Gidon. Gidon, too, initiates
the rebellion against the Midianites by smashing his fathers idol to Ba'al:
And it was, on
that night, that God said to him: "Take your father's young ox, and the other ox
that is seven years old, and throw down your father's altar to Ba'al, and cut
down the Ashera that is by it." (Shoftim 6:25)
In the wake of this act Gidon is garbed with the divine spirit, and he
calls to some of the tribes to join him in waging war against Midian:
spirit garbed Gidon, and he sounded the shofar, and Aviezer mustered behind him.
He sent messengers throughout Menashe, who also mustered behind him, and he sent
messengers to Asher and to Zevulun and to Naftali, and they came up to meet
them. (Ibid. 34-35)
Another point of similarity concerns the identity of the soldiers. The
first to respond to Matityahu's call are his sons: "So he and his sons fled to
the mountains" (I Makkabim 2:28). Likewise, Gidon's first recruits are
his brothers and other members of his family: "Aviezer mustered behind him"
(Gidon's brothers are killed in the war against Midian; see Shoftim
In both cases, the war is waged between "the few and the many." Matityahu
starts the rebellion with but a few men, and even later on, when Yehuda
ha-Makkabi wages the first battles against the Greek forces, his army is
described as a small one:
And when they
saw the camp coming towards them, they said to Yehuda: "How shall we, being few
in number, be able to fight against this strong multitude?" (I Makkabim
prepares for battle with only three hundred men, against the entire army of
There is significance not only in the number of soldiers, but also in
their quality. The battle is not only a matter of "the many against the few,"
but also "the wicked against the righteous, and the brazen against those who are
occupied with Your Torah." Yehuda's fighters are very few in number, but they
believe in their path at a time when it was perhaps easier to integrate into
the prevailing Greek culture, as many Jews were indeed choosing to do. The
idolatrous worship did not carry so much religious weight (did anyone in
Antiokhus's kingdom believe that the Greek gods ruled the world?) as cultural
significance. It was a matter of lifestyle, role models, and morals.
In Gidon's time, too, worship of Ba'al does not seem to have been meant
as a clear religious statement that it was Ba'al who would bring rain, etc. In
Gidon's time, Am Yisrael worshiped both God and Ba'al; they were
straddling both ways of life. They worshipped God, because this was the
tradition of their forefathers. And they worshipped Ba'al because this
represented integration into the surrounding cultural milieu.
Another story that has various similarities to these two is that of
Avraham, in his war against the four kings. Here, again, the war is waged by the
few against the many. As in the story of Gidon, there is a surprise attack at
night, targeting some of the heads of the army, striking a serious blow to the
great enemy camp that is fast asleep, and then pursuit and expulsion. Avraham,
too, sets off to save his nephew with about three hundred soldiers, just as
Gidon and his three hundred men pursue Zevach and Tzalmuna, the kings of Midian,
to find out what happened to his brothers.
Chazal contribute another dimension to this comparison by identifying
Amrafel king of Shinar as Nimrod (e.g. Bereishit Rabba 42:7). (He is so
named because he sought to throw Avraham into the fiery furnace
"amar-pol.") Nimrod wanted to kill Avraham after the latter had shattered
the idols; hence, Avraham's battle similarly begins with a breaking of
All of these stories share the common elements of a breaking of idols,
and going out to battle with a small army of brothers and fellow believers,
against a foreign power that is trying to impose its culture.
Both in Gidon's time and in the time of Matityahu, the Jews were faced
with the prospect of integration into the surrounding culture, but only at the
price of loss of their own identity. The danger of assimilation loomed over
them. Both leaders made the same choice: to follow the way of Torah, and to wage
a battle against the gentile culture around them.
From this we deduce the principle that "There is no person who is free,
except one who engages in Torah" (Avot 6:2). A true battle for freedom,
with a readiness for real self-sacrifice, can bring victory in a battle between
a few and a multitude, and thereby also to bring about political freedom.
The miracles both those experienced by Gidon and those experienced by
Yehuda ha-Makkabi were merely signs that God approved of their struggles.
These were not miracles like the ones that happened during the battle led by
Devora and Barak. Here, the war was in human hands. Without miraculous Divine
intervention, there is victory only when it is a case of the wicked against
righteous people; the brazen against those engaged in Your Torah."
The model of Yehuda ha-Makkabi is familiar to us from Zionist history at
the time of the establishment of the State, when the attempt was made to build
the Israel Defense Forces on the military legends of two specific characters:
Yehuda ha-Makkabi and Bar Kokhba.
There is a great, fundamental difference between Yehuda ha-Makkabi and
Bar Kokhba. Bar Kokhba ultimately lost his battle, while Yehuda ha-Makkabi won.
Bar Kokhba's war led to the loss of many Jewish lives, and a terrible exile that
lasted two thousand years. Yehuda ha-Makkabi, on the other hand, led to the
political revival of the Hasmonean kingdom.
Bar Kokhba started out well, with Rabbi Akiva lending his full support
to the extent that he served as Bar Kokhba's armor-bearer (Rambam, Hilkhot
Melakhim 11:3) - and with a genuine inner understanding of the need to
rebuild the Temple and to observe the commandments of the Torah. Later on,
however, he abandoned Rabbi Akiva's path. At a certain point, the midrash tells
us, Bar Kokhba asked God to neither aid nor obstruct his battle:
When they went
out to battle they would say [to God]: "Do not help us and do not hinder us."
This is as it is written (Tehillim 60:12): "Have You, our God, not then
forsaken us, not going out, God, with our hosts?" (Eikha Rabba 2:4)
This statement was directed less towards God Himself, and more towards
those who represent His teaching and His will the sages. The abandonment of
the path of the sages also finds expression in the famous kick with which Bar
Kokhba ended the life of Rabbi Elazar ha-Moda'i (see Eikha Rabba,
All of this is in contrast to Yehuda ha-Makkabi and his father,
Matityhau. Matityahu started his rebellion mostly as a war against Hellenized
Jews, while Yehuda ha-Makkabi transferred the battle to the enemy front. Their
intention, however, was the same: they sought to preserve the way of God, Torah,
and the commandments.
"There is no person who is free, except one who engages in Torah." The
victory of the few over the many is not possible unless it represents the
delivering of "the wicked into the hands of the righteous," and "the brazen into
the hands of those engaged in Your Torah."
was delivered on the fifth night of Chanuka, 5764 (2004).]