Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 20 December 2014 / 28 Kislev 5775

The Shemoneh Esrei - The Seventh Blessing - Part 3

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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(G-d) Fight Our Battle

We find in Jewish history two distinct types of battles fought against our enemies. One where G-d does the fighting, and another where it seems as though we do.

In Egypt, G-d showed the world His might and power as He struck the wicked Egyptians with ten plagues. Each of the plagues showed undeniably G-d’s total control over the forces of nature. Clearly, it was G-d Who was doing the fighting both in Egypt and at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, as the verse indicates: “Moshe said to the people, ‘G-d will make war for you, and you will remain silent’.” Thus, at the exodus G-d took center stage as He wrought great miracles, while, we, the Jewish People, watched as spectators.

In contrast to this, we find an extraordinary story which took place before the Common Era (174-138 BCE). Antiochus IV, the Syrian ruler, was a wicked tyrant who ruthlessly persecuted the Jews. He outlawed religious worship like Shabbat, brit mila, and kashrut and even decreed that pigs be slaughtered upon the holy Altar. The Jews stood strong in the face of death, refusing to abandon G-d or His Torah. Throughout the more than thirty years of persecution thousands of Jews died as martyrs, until a small group of righteous believers began to fight back.

Mattatyahu, the son of Yochanan, the high priest, and his five sons, began a rebellion against the mightier and more numerous Syrian army. With a display of immeasurable courage and strength the Jews somehow managed to kill thousands upon thousands of enemy soldiers, eventually recapturing Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.

After the Temple was rededicated, the Jews witnessed the only open miracle throughout the thirty-year struggle against their enemies. Though there was only enough uncontaminated oil found to light the Menorah in the Temple for one night, it remained lit for eight nights until more pure oil was prepared. It is this miracle that we commemorate each year as we light the Chanuka lights.

Our Sages explain that pure oil was not required for the lighting of the Menorah at that time. As such, they ask why the holiday of Chanuka was established to commemorate a seemingly unnecessary miracle. Surely Chanuka should have instead been established to commemorate the military victory led by Mattityahu and his sons, for that is obviously the main event of the story.

The true victor of the war against the Syrians was G-d, for it was He that did the fighting which led to our victory. How else could a small group of untrained and barely armed men have defeated an entire army of over fifty thousand men? However, unlike in Egypt, G-d fought from ‘behind the scenes’ and allowed us to take center stage. Since one might mistakenly think that G-d left us to fight our battles by ourself, He chose to show Himself at the end with the miracle of the oil, as if to say that “I have been here all along fighting your battles.” Our wise Sages knew this and chose this one act of G-d as the symbol of the holiday to teach us that it was His Divine providence which transcends nature that was behind the Jewish triumph of Chanuka.

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