Who Can Retell? Three Different Hanukah Stories

From the Book of Maccabees

In those days [of religious persecution by King Antiochus], a priest named Mattathias moved from Jerusalem, and settled in Modiin [a provincial town]. He had five sons, John, Simon, Judah called Maccabeus, Elazar, and Jonathan. When he saw the blasphemous things that were going on in Judea and Jerusalem, he said with a heavy sigh, “Why was I born to witness the ruin of my people and the ruin of the Holy City, and to sit by while it is being given up to its enemies, and its Temple to aliens?”

Mattathias and his sons tore their clothes in mourning… Later the king’s officers, who were forcing the people to give up their religion, came to the town of Modiin, to make them offer an idolatrous sacrifice. When many Jews, among them Mattathias and his sons, gathered together, the king’s messengers said to Mattathias: “You are a leading man, great and distinguished in this town, surrounded with sons and brothers; now be the first to come forward and carry out the king’s command as all the peoples, all the men of Judea and those who are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be counted among the Friends of the King and will receive silver, gold and many royal commissions.”

Then Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: “Even if all the peoples in the king’s dominions listen to him and forsake each of them the religion of their ancestors, I and my children and my siblings will live in accordance with the covenant of our ancestors. God forbid that we should abandon the Torah and the ordinances. We will not listen to the message of the king, nor depart from our religion to the right hand or to the left.”

When Mattathias finished speaking, a Jew went up before everyone’s eyes to offer the pagan sacrifice on the altar in Modiin as the king commanded. Mattathias saw him and was filled with zeal. Mattathias shook with emotion and could not contain his anger, and ran up and slaughtered him upon the altar. At the same time Mattathias killed the king’s officer who was trying to compel them to sacrifice, and tore down the altar. Thus he showed his zeal for the Torah, just as Pinchas [the zealous priest] did (Numbers 25).

Then Mattathias cried out in a loud voice in the town, “Let everybody who is zealous for the Torah and stands by the Covenant follow me.” And he and his sons fled to the mountains and left all they possessed in the town.

(A religious innovation, that led to victory.) When Mattathias and his friends learned of [the massacre], they grieved bitterly and said to one another: “If we all do as our brothers have done and refuse to fight [on Shabbat] against the pagans, for our lives and for what we believe is right, they will very soon wipe us off the face of the earth.” On that day they reached this decision: “If anyone attacks us on Shabbat, let us fight against them and not all die, as our brothers died in the hiding places.” (I Maccabees 2: 29-41)

מאי חנוכה דתנו רבנן בכ"ה בכסליו יומי דחנוכה תמניא אינון דלא למספד בהון ודלא להתענות בהון שכשנכנסו יוונים להיכל טמאו כל השמנים שבהיכל וכשגברה מלכות בית חשמונאי ונצחום בדקו ולא מצאו אלא פך אחד של שמן שהיה מונח בחותמו של כהן גדול ולא היה בו אלא להדליק יום אחד נעשה בו נס והדליקו ממנו שמונה ימים לשנה אחרת קבעום ועשאום ימים טובים בהלל והודאה

What is Hanukah? Our Sages taught: On the 25th of Kislev - during the eight days of Chanukkah - we are not to eulogize or to fast. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they polluted all the oils in the Temple. When the Hasmoneans [i.e. the Maccabees] overcame and defeated them, they [the Maccabees] searched for but found only one cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest on it. It contained only [enough] oil to burn a single day. A miracle occurred. They lit [the menorah with the oil] from it [and it burned] for eight days. The following year [the Sages] fixed those [days], making them holidays for praise and thanksgiving.

ב"ש אומרים יום ראשון מדליק שמנה מכאן ואילך פוחת והולך וב"ה אומרים יום ראשון מדליק אחת מכאן ואילך מוסיף והולך אמר עולא פליגי בה תרי אמוראי במערבא ר' יוסי בר אבין ור' יוסי בר זבידא חד אמר טעמא דב"ש כנגד ימים הנכנסין וטעמא דב"ה כנגד ימים היוצאין וחד אמר טעמא דב"ש כנגד פרי החג וטעמא דבית הלל דמעלין בקדש ואין מורידין אמר רבה בר בר חנה א"ר יוחנן שני זקנים היו בצידן אחד עשה כב"ש ואחד עשה כדברי ב"ה זה נותן טעם לדבריו כנגד פרי החג וזה נותן טעם לדבריו דמעלין בקדש ואין מורידין

Beit Shammai say: The first day one lights eight [lights], from here going [forward], one goes on decreasing [the number of lights], and Beit Hillel says: The first one lights one [light], from here going [forward], he goes on adding [lights]. Ulla said:... two Amoraim from the West [i.e., Eretz Yisrael]argued about it: Rabbi Yosi ben Avin and Rabbi Yosi ben Zevida. One said, the reasoning of Beit Shammai is: to correspond to the days which are entering, and the reasoning of Beit Hillel is: to correspond to the days which are going out; [the other] one said: the reasoning of Beit Shammai is: to correspond to the bulls [offered on Sukkot] and the reasoning of Beit Hillel is that [we] increase holiness [we] do not decrease [holiness]. Rabbah bar Bar Chanah said that Rabbi Yochanan said: There were two elder [scholars] in Tzidon, one liked the words of Beit Shammai, and [the other] liked the words of Beit Hillel. This [one] gave reason for his words [i.e., actions] - corresponding to the bulls [offered] on Sukkot, and this [other] one gave reason for his words: that [we] increase holiness and [we] do not decrease [holiness].

Hanukah And Zionism, from A Different Light: The Big Book of Hanukkah by Noam Zion

"Hanukkah is an ancient festival, but a modest one. The Festival of the Hasmoneans is a new holy day, but full of high spirits and popular gaiety.

What was Hanukkah?… ‘ a memorial for the Miracles’… the lighting of the little candles… at home, potato pancakes and playing cards for the adults, spinning tops for the toddlers.

And what is Hanukkah now? – The Festival of the Hasmoneans, a holiday filled with cheering, a big national holiday which is celebrated by the Jewish people in all its dispersions with parties and speeches, songs and ballads, hikes and parades… This is our Festival of the Hasmoneans as it is today."

The great victory of Judah Maccabeus, whose memory is honored in every Jewish house and every Jewish heart during the eight days of Hanukkah, was the triumph of the Jewish tiller of the soil. It was not the city of Jerusalem nor the ranks of the wealthy and large landowners, but the obscure village of Modiin in Judah, with its peasants whose plot of land was their all, that produced Mattathias the Hasmonean and his sons, who saved Jewish culture and perhaps the whole Jewish race from destruction. We have here an historic fact which speaks more than all the theoretical arguments in the world for the importance of national land and agricultural workers who literally draw their bread from their soil by the labor of their hands, for the sake of the culture, the freedom, the life of the nation. Zionism knew how to raise the Feast of Hanukkah, that feast of small candles, which shed their eternal light from the past into the future, to the height of a new national symbol. Can one ever forget that fine sketch. “The Menorah”, by the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl? The picture of Herzl standing wrapped in troubled thought, in front of a menorah, is one of the most beautifully symbolic in the life of the leader. But it seems to me that this festival has come to tell the people, through its two thousand year old symbol, of the principle of land redemption, and the creation of a class of workers on the soil that shall serve as a basis for the future existence of the race.- Joseph Klausner

A Psalm Becomes a Zionist Song, From A Different Light: The Big Book of Hanukkah by Noam Zion

(א) הַֽלְלוּיָ֨הּ ׀ הוֹד֣וּ לַיהוָ֣ה כִּי־ט֑וֹב כִּ֖י לְעוֹלָ֣ם חַסְדּֽוֹ׃ (ב) מִ֗י יְ֭מַלֵּל גְּבוּר֣וֹת יְהוָ֑ה יַ֝שְׁמִ֗יעַ כָּל־תְּהִלָּתֽוֹ׃... (ח) וַֽ֭יּוֹשִׁיעֵם לְמַ֣עַן שְׁמ֑וֹ לְ֝הוֹדִ֗יעַ אֶת־גְּבוּרָתֽוֹ׃... (י) וַֽ֭יּוֹשִׁיעֵם מִיַּ֣ד שׂוֹנֵ֑א וַ֝יִּגְאָלֵ֗ם מִיַּ֥ד אוֹיֵֽב׃

(1) Hallelujah. Praise the Lord for God is good; God's steadfast love is eternal. (2) Who can tell the mighty acts of the Eternal, proclaim all God's praises? ... (8) Nevertheless He saved [our ancestors], as befits God's name... (10) redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.

מי ימלל -

מי ימלל גבורות ישראל
אותן מי ימנה
הן בכל דור יקום הגיבור
גואל העם

בימים ההם בזמן הזה
מכבי מושיע ופודה
ובימינו כל עם ישראל
יתאחד, יקום ויגאל

MI Y’MALELAn Early Zionist Folksong

Who can retell the things that befell us,
Who can count them?
In every age, a hero or sage
Came to our aid.

In days of yore in Israel’s ancient land
Brave Maccabeus led the faithful band
But now all Israel must as one arise
Redeem itself through deed and sacrifice.

אנו נושאים לפידים

מילים: אהרון זאב
לחן: מרדכי זעירא

אָנוּ נוֹשְׂאִים לַפִּידִים
בְּלֵילוֹת אֲפֵלִים.
זוֹרְחִים הַשְּׁבִילִים מִתַּחַת רַגְלֵינוּ
וּמִי אֲשֶׁר לֵב לוֹ
הַצָּמֵא לָאוֹר -
יִשָּׂא אֶת עֵינָיו וְלִבּוֹ אֵלֵינוּ
לָאוֹר וְיָבוֹא!

נֵס לֹא קָרָה לָנוּ -
פַּךְ שֶׁמֶן לֹא מָצָאנוּ.
לָעֵמֶק הָלַכְנוּ, הָהָרָ עָלִינוּ,
מַעַיְנוֹת הָאוֹרוֹת
הַגְּנוּזִים גִּלִּינוּ.

נֵס לֹא קָרָה לָנוּ -
פַּךְ שֶׁמֶן לֹא מָצָאנוּ.
בַּסֶּלַע חָצַבְנוּ עַד דָּם -
וַיְּהִי אוֹר!


Words: Aaron Zev

Melody: Mordechai Za'irah

We carry our torches
In darkest depths of night.
The paths beneath our feet are bright.
Anyone who has a heart
Which for light is parched
Should lift up to us his eyes and heart.
Join us, towards the light!

No miracle befell us -
No cruse of oil found by us.
We walked to vale, climbed mountain high,
And there springs unearthed
Of hidden lights of yore.

No miracle befell us -
No cruse of oil found by us.
We quarried rock until we bled -
And then there was light!