“For the miracles, the redemption, the mighty deeds, and the victories in battle which You performed for our ancestors in those days, at this time. In the days of Mattityahu, son of Yochanan, the High Priest, the Hasmonean, and his sons, the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and to force them to transgress the statutes of Your will. It was then that You in Your great compassion stood by them in the time of their distress. You championed their cause, 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 righteous, and the arrogant into the hands of those who were engaged in the study of Your Torah. You made for Yourself great and holy renown in Your world, and for your people Israel You performed a great salvation and redemption as of this very day. Your children then entered the holiest part of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified Your sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courts, and designated these eight days of Chanukah for giving thanks and praise to Your great Name.” (Al Hanissim prayer for Chanukah).

This powerful prayer of gratitude is recited throughout Chanukah, both in the Amidah and in the Birkat Hamazon, in the blessings dealing with thanksgiving (Shabbat 24a and Orach Chaim 682:1). The theme of the prayer is primarily the military victory over the Greeks, although the lighting of the menorah is referred to towards the end. Rabbi Yaakov Ariel (cited in Siddur Avodat Halev, Rabbinical Council of America) writes, “This paragraph emphasizes the goal of the persecutors ‘to force them to forget Your Torah,’ and the perseverance of the ‘devotes of Your Torah.’ This also explains why we continue to light the menora: in the Second Temple the menora came to represent the power of Torah, both written and oral, and the centrality of its sustained study. It was this Torah that gave the Jews light and wisdom in a dark and ignorant world. The Torah gave us the strength and the power to flourish as a separate nation with our own identity over the millennia. In our own time as well we can see how the study of Torah is a powerful force that ensures a commitment to Jewish life.” 

The Greeks attempted to impose their values, lifestyle and philosophy, known as Hellenism, upon the Jews.  They forbade three central mitzvoth (see commentary of the Abdurahman) – Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and Brit Milah. Unfortunately, many Jews came under the spell of the Greeks and adopted their lifestyle, as explained by Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (commentary to the Siddur): “The terms ‘impure’, ‘wicked’ and ‘arrogant’ refer to Jews who had forsaken the Law and had taken the side of the Greeks. They preferred impurity, the immorality which titillated their senses to the moral purity required by Judaism, and they chose lawless unrestraint in preference to the path of loyalty to duty which requires the Jew to stop at every step to examine his actions in the light of the standards set by the Law. They consciously and deliberately sought to bring about the cessation of the study and observance of Jewish Law. They therefore not only viewed the actions of the Greeks with favour but actually aided and abetted them.” These words of Rabbi Hirsch seem shocking – why would a Jew betray his own people? Alas, this a trend that continued throughout Jewish history and remains with us today. Two weeks ago, a group called a “South African Jews for a free Palestine” arranged a “Shabbos against Genocide in Palestine” at the Sea Point promenade. In their invitation they stated, “we will not allow our Judaism and the memory of our ancestors to be weaponised for further and interlinked genocidal projects. Palestinian freedom requires an end to Zionism.”  These people are, in effect, calling for the destruction of the State of Israel. If that is not bad enough, there is currently a video doing the rounds on social media in which Ronnie Kasrils, the veteran struggle hero, praises Hamas for the 07/11 terror attacks, calling it a “brilliant, spectacular guerrilla warfare attack…” He goes on to say “they swept on them and they killed them and damn good! I was so pleased”. I was sick to my stomach when I saw and heard a Jew utter these words.

Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchick (cited in the Koren Masoret Harav siddur page 939) puts the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights into perspective: “Candles perform two functions. First, they provide light, so that one can see. The Shabbat candles represent this light of illumination, the shining light enjoyed by many, which brilliantly lights up the whole house. In addition, however, candles can be seen even where they do not offer much light, providing a guide in the darkness even as they do not dissipate it. In this sense, a candle is like a twinkling star, which is seen but not used for its light. A far-away star symbolizes the endlessness of the cosmos. The human eye cannot encompass the distances; one’s intellect cannot penetrate the flying nebulae. Man sees a light, a twinkling star, telling him that the cosmos is the abode of an infinite will and that everything is guided by an infinite and omnipotent intelligence. The distant star does not shed light; it does not resolve enigmas or clear up mysteries. But it does guide; it winks at us and tell us something we do not fully understand. The Hanukka light offers an experience similar to that of seeing a remote star; it remind us that there is a light behind the vast and awesome cosmos drama. The Hanukka festival itself commemorates an era of God being hidden from us. Many of our brethren committed apostasy at that time and joined the Greeks. Israel was weak politically, militarily and economically, and was spiritually confused and religiously fluctuating. It was faced with a mighty competing civilization – Hellenism – and the heavens seemed closed. Nevertheless, an old man with his sons had the courage to declare war on an enemy many times stronger. No prophet promised a reward, no divine vision inspired them, no heavenly revealed message gave them solace. This distant star does not point directly at the glory of God, but it does tell us of a God who, in His transcendent recesses, guides the world. God remains invisible, but directs man to intervene, becoming the instruments of His inscrutable will. At the time of the Hanukka story, God intervened in human history, but without revelation; by looking at the Hanukka candles, we are directed to the message behind them.”

Lee, Chani Merryl and Naomi join me in wishing you Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach!

Rabbi Liebenberg

Link to Rabbi’s YouTube message for the parsha: https://youtu.be/qiMuqn6uO-4?si=04X2OjdqLlUfrPb9

*Please refer to the Chanukah Leaflet for background on the festival and how to fulfil the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights. Details of the Chanukah event can be found below.

**Wednesday 13 December – Rosh Chodesh Tevet

Tevet contains the final days of Chanukah and also the Fast of the Tenth of Tevet (Friday 22 December), which commemorates the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in the era of the First Temple. The Molad (appearance of the new moon) for Tevet is on Tuesday 12 December at 20h01 and 3 chalakim. (A chelek, literally a “portion”, is a Talmudic measure of time equal to one-eighteenth of a minute, or 3 and 1/3 seconds).  

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