Many may know the story of Hanukkah, when Greek forces wanted to impose their religion and ways on the Jewish people, and a small band of priests, Matityahu and his five sons, and their untrained followers, took up the sword to protest and fight for survival, and won!
But few know about the hidden story of Hanukkah, which begins 150 years before the battles of Hasmonean priests when Alexander the Great of Greece managed to extend Greek hegemony from the westernmost shores of the Mediterranean to the shores of India. At that time, as he approached Jerusalem with his renowned army, The High Priest of Jerusalem put on his High Holy Day Special Temple garments and asked all the other priests to dress in white. All night, they carried torches and walked on foot unarmed to greet the forces of Alexander the Great. Finally, they met at dawn and to everyone’s amazement, Alexander got off his chariot and bowed down to the High Priest. Below is a video depicting what happened then.
However, in 175 BCE, When the Hellenic forces had divided between the northern Syriand Greeks and the southern Greeks based in Egypt, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the northern ruler, invaded Judea at the request of the sons of Tobias, the Hellenizing Jewish faction within Jerusalem. As Flavius Josephus relates:
The king being thereto disposed beforehand, complied with them, and came upon the Jews with a great army, and took their city by force, and slew a great multitude of those that favored Ptolemy, and sent out his soldiers to plunder them without mercy. He also spoiled the temple, and put a stop to the constant practice of offering a daily sacrifice of expiation for three years and six months. — The Jewish War
The battles of Hanukkah are commemorated in the song Al hanissim – about the miracles – prayer we say after lighting the candles of the menorah.
You delivered the mighty into the hands of the week, 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 degenerates into the hands of those who cling to your Torah!
This victory astounded the ancient world as much as the splitting of the sea during the Israelite exodus from Egypt. However, the victory was brief and in no way definitive for Israel. The Jews achieved sovereignty in their own land, but the influence of Hellenism among them persisted, and only one hundred years later, after the death of King Herod, the Roman Empire, heir to the Greek empire, reasserted total hegemony over Judea and its inhabitants. And When Jews resisted, the Grand Temple in Jerusalem was burnt to the ground by the Romans in 70 AD, resulting in 2000 years of exile before Jews would recover sovereignty over their people in their native land. After the destruction of the Temple, some Rabbis considered abolishing Hanukkah altogether! But others insisted on keeping the Holiday, as Rabbi Jonathon explains below. *1
Sadly, misinformation and attacks on Jews have occurred throughout the world in recent times. Yet, our best defence is to study Torah and celebrate our holidays, which teach us how to enjoy the best of times and how to survive the worst of times!
This acapella music video about Hannukah says it all.
1. The Office of Rabbi Sacks, On 20th October 2012, Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks delivered a keynote address at Bushey Synagogue on The Hidden Story of Chanukah. With thanks to Bushey Synagogue for the use of this video.