Sukkot, Chanukah and Yemot ha-mashiach: An Analysis of Primary Sources



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Sukkot, Chanukah and Yemot ha-mashiach: An Analysis of Primary Sources*1

by Aton M. Holzer


Chanukah, the eight-day festival commencing on the twenty-fifth of Kislev, is the only remaining holiday established in antiquity to commemorate post-biblical events. Despite its absence from the canon, rabbinic sources allow no mystery with regard to the events at the source of the holiday; perhaps the earliest tannaitic source, Megillat Ta'anit, cites as the basis of Chanukah the repossession, purification and rededication of the Mikdash by the Hasmoneans after three years of its desecration at the hands of the Seleucid Greeks.
Literature relatively contemporaneous to the Hasmonean period also chronicles the Hasmonean victories as well as the holiday that they established. Notable among these works are two Apocryphal texts: Maccabees I and II (known together as Sifrei Ha-makkabim). The former describes the general events of the period, while the latter focuses upon the acts of Judah Maccabee in particular. Both deal with the newly established festival, and relate to three aspects of it. Maccabees I 4:58 refers to the holiday as "yemei chanukat ha-mizbe'ach," the days of the dedication of the altar; Maccabees II 1:18 and 2:16 calls it "chag taharat ha-mikdash" or "chag ha-tahara," the festival of the purification [of the sanctuary]; most intriguing is the passage in Maccabees II 10:6-8:
And they celebrated the eight days in joy as chag ha-sukkot in their remembrance of their troubles before some time on chag ha-sukkot in the mountains and caves as beasts of the field. Therefore, with branches of myrtle and branches of beauty and date palm branches in their hands, they gave thanks to He who permitted them to succeed in purifying His Temple. And with a consensus they established for the entire Jewish nation to celebrate each year these days.

Hence, in both of the letters of Yehuda Ha-makkabi to the Jewish community of Alexandria (as recorded in the first two chapters of Maccabees II) he implores them to "perform the days of chag ha-sukkot" (1:9) or "chag ha-sukkot ve-ha'esh" (1:18) the festival of booths and fire, "in the month of Kislev."


Understanding the nature of the relationship between Sukkot and Chanukah may provide the key to revealing both halakhic implications in terms of our observance of the holiday, as well as thematic common denominators between the two holidays.
We will proceed by analyzing the prime halakhic source for the observances of Chanukah - namely, the Talmud in Tractate Shabbat 21a-24a.

1. Petilot U-Shemanim


The portion relating to Chanukah opens with a discussion of the application of the categories of fuel forbidden for use to kindle Shabbat lights to other areas which involve kindling. Rami Bar Chama opines that such fuel, which is not self-sustaining but requires adjustment, is forbidden for use in the Mikdash - i.e., the menorah in the Mikdash. The reason for this disqualification is that regarding the menorah, it is written "le-ha'alot ner tamid," "to cause to ascend continually" - the flame must ascend of itself, without requiring constant attention. The gemara then states that the above does not apply to the lights of the simchat beit ha-sho'eva, the rejoicing of the water drawing.2 The gemara continues by asking whether the disqualification of this fuel also applies to Chanukah lights. Three opinions are presented - one that the aforementioned categories of fuel are forbidden for use in Chanukah lights both on Shabbat and weekdays; one that permits their use on weekdays but not Shabbat; and one that permits their use on both weekdays and Shabbat. The gemara discerns two factors at the root of those three opinions: first, if kavta zakuk la - is one responsible for the rekindling of the lights if they are extinguished; second, if mutar lehishtamesh le-orah - is one permitted to make use of the light of the Chanukah candles?
The opening portion of the sugya is very telling as to the nature of the injunction to kindle Chanukah lights, which is the central injunction in the observance of Chanukah. What are the functions of the three paradigms listed, the ner Shabbat, the menorah and the lights of simchat beit ha-sho'eva?
The first two paradigms are addressed later within our gemara's discussion. On 23b, the gemara notes that the purpose of ner Shabbat is peace of the home - shalom bayit - which comes about via the light it produces; the candles are compared to the amud ha-esh, the revelation of Divine presence, whose purpose is le-ha'ir lahem, to illuminate for them.
On 22b, the gemara relates: "Rav Sheshet inquired - 'Outside of the parochet (curtain) of testimony shall he order it [the menorah]' - does he [Aharon, the Kohen Gadol] require its light? Surely all forty years that B'nei Yisrael walked in the desert, they walked only by His light (the amud ha'esh, pillar of fire)! Rather, it is a testimony to mankind she-haShekhina shorah be-Yisrael, that the Divine Presence rests upon Yisrael. What is the testimony? Rav said, this is the western light [of the menorah], in which would be poured the same amount of oil as the others, and he would kindle the others from it, and he would finish with it." Tosafot explain the phrase "and he would finish with it" to mean that the western light would burn from the time of kindling on one day until the time of kindling on the next, so that the kohen would use its flame to light the others, and then would extinguish and rekindle it. The menorah, in which a miracle was performed each day, served as the proof, reminder and expression of the Divine Presence among the Jewish people.
The last question is addressed, albeit indirectly, in Tractate Sukka. The mishna on 51a presents an account of the simchat beit ha-sho'eva festivities. According to the Tanna cited in the mishna, on each night of chol ha-mo'ed there was a massive celebration in the courtyard of the Mikdash involving the lighting of great lamps, torch-juggling, acrobatics (a form of prostration called kida), song and praise. Especially notable in the account are the statements, "...and there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that was not lit by the light of the beit ha-sho'eva. Righteous ones and men of deeds would dance before them with torches of fire in their hands and would say before them words of song and praise..." The gemara on 53a quotes a beraita which describes some of the "words of song and praise." "We learn from a beraita: They said of Hillel the elder that when he rejoiced in the simchat beit ha-sho'eva, he would say, 'If I am here, all are here; if I am not here, who is here?' He would say, 'To the place which I love, to there do My feet lead me; if you come to My house, I will come to your house; if you do not come to My house, I will not come to your house,' as it is written, 'In every place in which I will mention my Name, I will come to you and bless you.'" Rashi explains both statements as representing those of God, expressing the centrality of His hashra'at ha-Shekhina, manifestation of the Divine presence.3 Tosafot explain the first statement as representing that of the Jewish people as a whole, denoting the concept that Divine Presence is contingent upon the worthiness of the people. Either way, a focus of the simchat beit ha-sho'eva festivities appears to have been the idea of hashra'at ha-Shekhina, the manifestation of the Divine presence. This appears to be further supported by the prominence of fire in the celebration (appearing both in the lighting of the lamps and the juggling of torches), which serves throughout Tanakh as perhaps the prime symbol of Divine revelation.4
Both the flames of the beit ha-sho'eva and the lights of the menorah represented hashra'at ha-Shekhina, but in two entirely different contexts. The light of the menorah was limited to the Kohanim, who were usually the only ones permitted to enter the heikhal, while the light of the beit ha-sho'eva spread to the entire city of Jerusalem;5 on this level alone, the similarity between Sukkot and Chanukah seems clear. Tens of sources in Tractate Sukka and throughout rabbinic literature point to the idea that the sukka represents the Mikdash and the four species represent korban.6 Since the festival of Sukkot brings the Mikdash and korban from one central location to the entire nation, simchat beit ha-sho'eva can be said to bring the light of the Shekhina to all of Jerusalem, which rabbinic literature sees as parallel to the Machaneh Yisrael,7 the encampment of the entire Jewish people in the desert. Chanukah can similarly be said to bring the light of the Shekhina to every Jewish home.8
Each of the three subsequent opinions regarding Chanukah candles fits into the above three paradigms:


  • Kavta zakuk la u-mutar le-hishtamesh le-orah holds that the Chanukah lights are parallel to the ner Shabbat - their purpose is to provide light for use at a specific future point; if they extinguish, they must be rekindled (since they, unlike Shabbat candles, are not accompanied by a prohibition of kindling) - and their light may be used.

  • Kavta eino zakuk la u-mutar le-hishtamesh le-orah holds that the Chanukah lights are parallel to the menorah. The entire requirement is to kindle them; after they are kindled, their mitzva is concluded, and as Tractate Pesachim (26a) notes, there is no prohibition to benefit from light of that whose mitzva is concluded.

  • Kavta eino zakuk la ve-asur le-hishtamesh le-orah holds that the Chanukah lights are parallel to the lights of the simchat beit ha-sho'eva. The requirement is that their light shine throughout the city; hence, so long as they remain lit, their mitzva endures, and hence, as Tosafot note on Tractate Sukka 53a, benefit from their light is prohibited.

One might, however, posit that the parallel runs far deeper. As was mentioned above, central to the beit ha-sho'eva ceremony is fire, one of several9 biblical symbols of the manifestation of the Divine presence, hashra'at ha-Shechina. Specific to the symbol of fire, however, is its usage both in Divine revelation to the righteous, i.e., in nevu'a (prophecy) or ru'ach ha-kodesh (Divine spirit which rests upon man) - e.g., to Moshe at Chorev, to the entire Jewish nation at Sinai, to Eliyahu at Mount Carmel and in his ascent to heaven, as well as to Yechezkel in his prophetic vision of the ma'aseh ha-merkava - and in Divine revelation in punishment - e.g., in the destruction of Sodom, in the plague of hail in Egypt, in the deaths of Nadav, Avihu and later, the mit'onenim and the 250 followers of Korach, in the deaths of the messengers of Achazya sent to capture Eliyahu as well as in the prophecies in Yirmiyahu, Yechezkel and Amos relating to the destructions of Moab, Idumea, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Magog, Philistia, Phoenicia and Ammon, as well as the churban of Judea.10


Numerous aggadic sources identify the former aspect of fire as a prime element of the beit ha-sho'eva ceremonies. Talmud Yerushalmi Tractate Sukka states, "Why is [the ceremony] called beit ha-sho'eva? For from there, they draw [sho'avin] ru'ach ha-kodesh, as it is written, 'And you shall draw water in happiness from the wellsprings of salvation.'"11 The Yerushalmi later illustrates this with an anecdote in which Yona received his personal ru'ach ha-kodesh at the simchat beit ha-sho'eva.12
The latter element is applied to simchat beit ha-sho'eva most directly by the Zohar, which writes, "...Pious ones and righteous ones rejoice in that joy (of simchat beit ha-sho'eva) that hints to the good that God will do when He will remove impurity (evil) from the world."13
Perhaps it can be said that the fires of simchat beit ha-sho'eva represent the manifestation of Divine presence throughout the world,14 an event that has two possible consequences - reward (ru'ach ha-kodesh) for the righteous and punishment (fiery doom) for the wicked,15 reminiscent of the eschatological account of Yo'el:
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions, and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out My spirit. And I will exhibit wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood, fire and pillars of smoke... And it shall come to pass, that whoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be delivered, for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those that escape16.... For behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring back the captivity of Judea and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Yehoshafat, and will enter into judgment with them there for my people and for my heritage Yisrael, whom they have scattered among the nations, and have divided up my land... (Yo'el 3:1-4:2)

This perspective enables us to better understand the Talmudic account of the simchat beit ha-sho'eva festivities. In its discussion of simchat beit ha-sho'eva, the Talmud in Sukka first establishes the level of joy in the festivities and then proceeds to discuss the procedure of separating men and women. In the latter discussion (51b-52a), the Talmud draws an odd comparison between simchat beit ha-sho'eva and the eschatological eulogy prophesied in Zecharya 12:12, in which men and woman shall mourn separately, and proceeds to explain the passage as referring either to the eulogy for Mashiach Ben Yosef, the fallen savior of the Jewish people in the eschatological apocalypse, or for the yetzer ha-ra, the evil inclination. The gemara proceeds to discuss the danger posed by the evil inclination and its eventual forcible removal from the midst of the Jewish people in the end of days. The understanding of simchat beit ha-sho'eva as the parallel to the aftermath of the destruction of evil enables us to view in a new light both the gemara's comparison of the ceremony to a funeral in the aftermath of the apocalypse and the discussion of the ongoing struggle between the Jewish people, representing pure good, and the "yetzer ha-ra," presented as an independent, external influence epitomizing evil.


After dealing with several technical points relating to the quantity and weight of the oil used in the beit ha-sho'eva candelabrums as well as the clarity of their light, the gemara proceeds to a discussion of the "words of song and praise" which the chasidim ve-anshei ma'aseh, pious men and men of deeds, would sing at the beit ha-sho'eva celebration. Again, that which we have surmised to be the theme of the beit ha-sho'eva ceremonies might cast some light upon their recorded praise. The Talmud quotes from the Tosefta, "Our Rabbis have derived, there are those among them who say, 'Happy is our childhood for it did not embarrass our old age' - these are the pious and men of deeds. And those of them that say, 'Happy is our old age for it atoned for our childhood' - these are ba'alei teshuva, those who have repented. Both say, 'Happy is he who has not sinned, and he who has sinned should return and he will be forgiven.'" Since simchat beit ha-sho'eva represents Divine revelation, which expresses itself immediately in reward for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, those in attendance are exhorted to examine their spiritual fitness so as to ensure that they fall in the former category. The statements of Hillel which follow in the gemara's account were explained earlier; now, the subsequent statement of Hillel and the ensuing quote from Rabbi Yochanan relating to the inevitability of, and inescapability from, the enactment of Divine justice are understood.17
In this light perhaps one could clarify the aforementioned statement of Rabbi Yona in the Yerushalmi (Sukka 5:1) that Yona Ben Amittai received his ruach ha-kodesh at the simchat beit ha-sho'eva; could there be any more fitting place than there for God to announce "for (Nineveh's) wickedness has come up before Me?!" On another level, this Yerushalmi would only serve to bolster the midrashic allusions18 and definite contention in the works of Lurianic Kabbala19 identifying Yona Ben Amittai himself as Mashiach Ben Yosef.20
Though it appears to be expressed in its fullest extent in the simchat beit ha-sho'eva, the idea of gilui Shekhina (and its result - the destruction of evil - as well as the climax of the result - the eschatological era) emerges as a major theme in Sukkot in general. The Torah explains the root of the festival of Sukkot as "ki be-sukkot hoshavti et Benei Yisrael be-hotzi'i otam me-Eretz Mitzrayim" (Vayikra 23:43) - "for I had settled Benei Yisrael in booths when I took them out of Egypt." Aggadic and midrashic sources21 identify as one interpretation of sukkot the ananei ha-kavod, clouds of Glory, which the Torah itself clearly associates with the Divine presence;22 thus, from its earliest origins, Sukkot bears a direct link with the concept of gilui Shekhina. The aforementioned link which Tractate Sukka and other sources draw between the sukka and the Mikdash, the ultimate biblical representation of gilui Shekhina - "ha-makom asher yivchar Hashem le-shaken shemo sham," - "the place which God shall choose to rest His Name there," only bolsters this idea.
The theme of conflict with evil, especially idolatry, idols, and their worshippers as a specific theme of Sukkot may possibly find a basis in the Torah itself. The earliest mention of the festival of Sukkot in the Torah appears in the parashat ha-mo'adim in Shemot 23:15-19. The descriptions of the agricultural aspects of the holidays and the subsequent injunction prohibiting the mention of the names of alien gods lead one classical commentator, Ibn Ezra, to interpret all the regalim as responses to pagan celebrations of thanksgiving to alien gods at the times of harvest and gathering, which are natural points of thanksgiving in the agricultural cycle.23

The notion of the ultimate resolution of the struggle between good and evil, and specifically between the Jewish people and the nations of the world, also features prominently as a theme of Sukkot. Aside from the choice of the portion milchemet Gog U-Magog, the biblical account of the eschatological apocalypse, as the Haftara for Sukkot, and the passage therein in which is described that, in the aftermath of the ultimate Divine revelation in judgment, "it shall be that all the remnants of all the nations who came upon Jerusalem shall rise each year to prostrate before the King, Hashem, Lord of Hosts, and to celebrate the festival of Sukkot,"24 we find many midrashim which speak of the former part of Tishrei as a time when the nations of the world oppose Yisrael before God in judgment,25 and Sukkot as the time when the latter emerge victorious.26


Nearly all the mitzvot and practices of Sukkot can be seen through the prism of the conflict between Judaism and idolatry and its eschatological resolution.27

  • The taking of the lulav is seen by midrashim as the instrument through which the Jewish people will merit being spared from destruction in the eschatological apocalypse28 or as a symbol of the victory of the Jews in their struggle with the nations of the world.29

  • The sukka is seen by midrashim alternatively as a pre-apocalyptic commandment that will be the final chance for the nations of the world to improve their standing prior to the rendering of Divine judgment,30 as an apocalyptic shelter, a refuge from Divine wrath,31 as well as a post-apocalyptic dwelling for the righteous - the sukka of the oro shel livyatan,32 which apparently comes in conjunction with the meal for the righteous remnants in the aftermath of the apocalypse, mentioned both in midrashic literature and in pseudepigraphic texts.33

  • The parei ha-chag, the seventy sacrificial heifers offered on Sukkot continually descend. Talmud Bavli Sukka 55b writes, "These seventy heifers... symbolize the seventy nations... Rabbi Yochanan says, 'Woe unto the idol worshippers who lost and do not know what they have lost. When the Beit Ha-mikdash stood, the altar atoned for them; and now - who atones for them?" The implication derived by Rashi (Bemidbar 29:18) is that, like the heifers, the nations of the world naturally decline and decrease until their destruction;34 the Mikdash served to protect them, but in its absence, they surge ever more quickly toward the apocalypse.

  • The complete Hallel is said throughout all the days of Sukkot. The gemara in Arakhin (10b) records that the reason that Hallel is said all the days of Sukkot, unlike Pesach, is that the days "differ in their sacrifices" - that is, the parei ha-chag. If there is a technical connection between Hallel and sacrifices, we would expect to find a thematic one - and indeed we do. The midrash and Yerushalmi write, "...be-tzeit Yisrael mi-Mitzrayim refers to the past. Lo lanu Hashem lo lanu refers to these generations. Ahavti ki yishma Hashem et koli refers to the messianic era. Isru chag be-avotim refers to the days of Gog U-Magog. Keli ata ve-odeka refers to the future to come..."35

  • Hakhel, the gathering of all men, women and children on the Sukkot following the Shemitta year, is definitively seen by the midrash as an event of hashra'at ha-Shekhina;36 in general, Talmudic sources see the magnitude of the expression of Divine presence as increasing in proportion with the amount of Jews gathered.37 In explaining the appellation of Kohelet found in the book by that name, Midrash Rabba presents two opinions - that Kohelet derives from the root of Kahal, hence that the contents of the book of Kohelet were said at Hakhel - and later, that of Rabbi Yirmiya, who explains that the term Kohelet refers to ruach ha-kodesh.38 A direct connection between Hakhel and eschatological events is not as readily apparent, although there might be a hint in the proximity of the Derashot of Rabbi Elazar Ben Azarya with regard to the purpose of inclusion of each of the groups recorded by Chumash in Hakhel and the exegetical statement that "You (the Jewish people) have given Me rulership and greatness in the world... so will I ascribe to you rulership and greatness in the world,"39 which (assuming that it is as it appears in the majority of the sources) seems to refer to the eschatological era. This might also explain the mishnaic placement of Hakhel immediately subsequent to Shemini Atzeret,40 which emerges from Bavli Sukka 55b as God's "day alone with Yisrael," as it were.

  • As we have discussed, the simcha of Sukkot, as expressed in the simchat beit ha-sho'eva, represents these ideas to the greatest extreme. The nisukh ha-mayim, water-libations specific to Sukkot, may also find a reflection in eschatological events. In Zecharya, we find a post-apocalyptic vision reminiscent of the simchat beit ha-sho'eva and subsequent nisukh ha-mayim in practice:

And it shall come to pass on that day, that there shall be neither bright light nor thick darkness, but it shall be one particular day which shall be known as the Lord's, neither day, nor night; but it shall come to pass that at evening time, there will be light. And on that day, living waters shall go out of Jerusalem.... (Zecharya 14:6-8)

  • Yaakov Genack41 draws the parallel between this eschatological water that will flow from the Mikdash in the aftermath of the eschatological apocalypse (also Yechezkel 47:1-12) and the water of nisukh ha-mayim, the water libations specific to Sukkot, to which the simchat beit ha-sho'eva may serve as a prelude.42

  • The surrounding of the altar seven times with the arava is seen by Yerushalmi Sukka (4:3) as a commemoration of the victory at Jericho, the first battle between the Jews and the seven nations of Cana'an - a battle fought by God for the Jewish people, one in which Divine revelation was most obvious. Talmudic and midrashic sources see the conquest of the seven nations as merely the beginning of the fulfillment of the guarantee to Avraham that his offspring would conquer the ten nations inhabiting Cana'an, and that three nations, the Keini, Kenizi and Kadmoni, are left for conquest in the eschatological era.43 Midrashic sources may tie the battle to the conflict between good and evil in their statement that "there were in the land of Cana'an no men as evil and difficult as them (of Jericho);"44 perhaps there is some allusion to a reflection of the eschatological apocalypse in the battle of Jericho contained in the assertion by midrashic sources that "Gog and all his masses shall rise and fall in the valley of Jericho."45 Perhaps these, when taken with the biblical similarities, lead later Kabbalistic sources to connect the role and deeds of Joshua with those of Mashiach Ben Yosef.46

After having dealt so extensively with Sukkot, we must turn to Chanukah. What is the nature of Chanukah? What themes were seen in Chanukah by the Jews of the Hasmonean era and which were chosen by the Rabbis to be expressed for posterity in Halakha and Minhag?


Rabbis Y. Bin-Nun47 and M. Leibtag48 both suggest that the Hasmoneans most probably saw themselves as fulfilling the prophecies of Chaggai. Apparent affirmation of this lies in the fact that the Maccabees established the festival of Chanukah on the 25 of Kislev, the date of the commencement of the construction of Bayit Sheini, which was immediately preceded by the prophecy of Chaggai predicting the imminent liberation of the then subordinatated Jewish nation (Chaggai 2:20-23).
From analysis of contemporary literature, however, it would appear that the Jews of the Hasmonean era saw the events of their time not merely as fulfillments of the prophecies of Chaggai but even as the actualization of the eschatological prophecies and guarantees of Zecharya, Yoel and other prophets.
In his analysis of the sources of the Books of Maccabees, J. A. Goldsteinth cites as sources two apocalyptic pseudepigraphical works whose kernels were completed at different points in the development of the Hasmonean revolt. The methodology he employs to date these works is based on a simple premise - essentially, since "...the genre known as 'apocalyptic...' sprang up during Antiochus' persecutions among Jews who strove to strengthen their people's faith in the hour of unbearable trial...," "both they and their audience were interested not in remote periods but in the present and immediate future. In their writings they would have the ancient worthy they chose as spokesman predict events down to the dreadful visitations of the immediate present, often with great specificity so as to show his great prophetic power, and then they would have him go on to predict a glorious deliverance.49 If the glorious deliverance did not occur, one can usually date such a work by the last historical event clearly described."50
It would appear evident from these works that Jews of the time viewed their era as immediately pre-apocalyptic. Maccabees II appears to be a prime proponent of this view. Aside from its aforementioned linkage of Chanukah to Sukkot, as Goldstein notes, there is a clear tendency in Maccabees II to attempt to reconcile the events in its account with apocalyptic works such as the Testament of Moses51 and even Daniel, after which the book may be structured.52 S. Zeitlin notes that the purpose of Maccabees II was to show how the providence of God ruled over His people, the Jews;53 Kahana notes that Divine aid in Maccabees II is seen as explicit.54 Further, Maccabees II contains several themes which scholars see as earmarks of apocalyptic literature.55
1. References to techiyat ha-meitim, the resurrection at the end of the eschatological era (7:14, 12:43-45);

2. Divine intervention for factors other than the virtuousness of the nation as whole, specifically

A. Divine zealousness for His Name (i.e., reputation), and particularly Yerushalayim and the Mikdash, the epitome thereof, (5:18, 8:2-3) and

B. Martyrdom of His people so as to preserve His laws (6:18-31, Chapter 7, 8:5).56


To be sure, these ideas find basis in antecedent literature.
The concept of God redeeming on behalf of His Name (and Mikdash) finds expression in Nevi'im, particularly in Yechezkel57 (although there it is to be followed by repentance); but perhaps the idea could be said to reach its climax in the sole canonical apocalypse, Daniel (9:19), when, at the end of his lengthy prayer, Daniel implores God to hearken unto his prayer and act immediately "for Your sake, my Lord, for Your Name is called upon Your city and Your nation" and receives a response immediately thereafter.
The second notion, that of Divine response to martyrdom, possibly finds its roots in Devarim 32:43, the ray of hope at the conclusion of the admonition of Shirat Ha'azinu - "O nations, sing the praise of His people for He will avenge the blood of His servants and He will bring retribution upon his foes, and he will appease His land and His people."58 The expression of this idea, however, is found only in apocalyptic literature; it appears to be a major theme in Daniel, in which Divine revelation with regard to the redemption comes thrice in response to the subjects' (Daniel, Chananya, Misha'el and Azarya) self-sacrifice to observe various mitzvot.
These works lead some scholars to conclude that the Jews of the Hasmonean period considered their time as that of the fulfillment of the eschatological prophecies and apocalypses.59
One would thus expect to find Maccabees I rife with eschatological anticipation and, being that its original language was Hebrew, literary parallels to relevant prophetic and apocalyptic texts - but neither are to be found. In fact, as Goldstein shows, much of Maccabees I is written specifically to indicate the lack of fulfillment of the visions of Daniel therein,60 and unlike Maccabees II, Maccabees I makes no effort to reconcile current events with contemporaneous apocalyptic literature. Maccabees I contains no reference to the relationship between the newly established Chanukah festival and Sukkot, nor is the holiday a focus of the book. A. Kahana notes that Divine intervention is seen by Maccabees I as present but relatively hidden in the Hasmonean revolt and surrounding events.61 Maccabees I contains no references to the resurrection; the enemies' desecration of the Mikdash is seen as heinous, but not that which generates Divine retribution through the Maccabees - that begins only after mourning and repentance (2:14) and an attempt to root out the Hellenized Jews from their midst (2:43). Further, stories of self-sacrifice are brought (1:60-63 and 2:29-37); the first, in which Jews sacrifice themselves for circumcision, is seen by the author as the expression of Divine wrath upon the Jews for their misdeeds (1:64), and the second, in which Jews sacrifice themselves to keep Shabbat, is seen to be an ineffective policy which must be avoided to bring about the redemption (2:39-40)!
Maccabees I, it appears, sees the events of the time as bearing no relationship to the eschatological era nor the prophecies thereof; its culmination in the ascension of Yochanan Hyrcanus, son of Shimon, to the title held by his father of Kohen Gadol - Nasi, thus creating a dynasty, appears to define the purpose of the book as tracing the background and establishment of the Hasmonean dynasty, reminiscent of all of Sefer Shmuel and the first chapter of Melakhim. (The book specifically denies the possibility of Hasmonean assumption of the throne in Matityahu's statement in 2:56 that David "inherited the throne of kingship forever.") In Maccabees, as in Shmuel, the hand of the Divine is not necessarily evident in the events and require prophetic elucidation. As E. Bickerman writes, Maccabees I consciously continues the line of biblical narratives about judges and kings in Israel.62

Which historical perspective has been adopted by our Chachamim? Were the Hasmonean victories to be seen as ordinary events with hidden Divine guidance, or were they to be viewed as the beginnings or foreshadows of the eschatological apocalypse?


The very fact that Chanukah has endured while all other holidays of the Bayit Sheini era recorded in Megillat Ta'anit (except Purim) have been abolished indicates that there is more to Chanukah than meets the eye; after all, our sages did not see occasion to establish lasting holidays to commemorate the victories of the Shoftim over the various oppressors nor of Shaul over the Philistines. The endurance of Chanukah and its enduring similarities in practice to Sukkot63 seems to indicate that the lesson in the events of Chanukah is relevant even after the churban.
Chazal surely did not reject the apocalyptic perspective in general - Daniel was accepted to the canon, and resurrection of the dead is a tenet of Jewish belief.64 Many of the tales from the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, even from the apocalypses,65 are similar to those found in midrashic and aggadic literature; the Book of Enoch in its entirety, Sefer Chanoch, seems to be accorded value by Kabbalistic sources.66 The Hasmonean victories are definitely seen as at least one stage in the fulfillment of the eschatological prophecies and apocalypses.
Probably among the first places to turn to ascertain the rabbinic perception of Chanukah events is the Megillat Antiochus. This concise rabbinic work67 is mentioned in works as early as those of Rabbi Sa'adia Ga'on68 and the Behag,69 and some scholars place it as early as the 2 century C.E.;nd several communities in Spain, Italy, Yemen and Iran had the practice of reading this work publicly on Shabbat Chanukah,70 similar to the practices of reading the megillot of Shir Ha-shirim and Kohelet on the Shabbatot of Pesach and Sukkot respectively.
One support to the contention that we have raised with regard to the rabbinic perception of the events of the Hasmonean period arises from the very content of the Megilla. Essentially, Megillat Antiochus is composed of three (or four) stories, composing two distinct themes.


  • In the first, the Greek general Nicanor defiles the Mikdash and is in turn killed by Yochanan Ben Matityahu; in some versions, the explanation "for there was an opportunity from God for he was jealous for His house" (verse 27)71 concludes this narrative.

  • The second and third stories both relate to Jews who sacrificed their lives rather than to transgress the laws of the Torah, one with regard to Shabbat, the other to circumcision, just as in Maccabees I; their sacrifices are seen as precipitating the response of God through the Maccabees (35). In the version in which Yehuda perishes early in the conflict, his death is seen as a cause of the victory (52); in that which he does not, the brothers each commit themselves to give their lives for a particular aspect of the victory (ana masrit yat nafshei) (lines 80-87).72

These themes correspond directly with the characteristics of apocalyptic literature enumerated above. I. Abrahams demonstrates several examples in which Megillat Antiochus draws upon Maccabees I;73 it would seem that the author had access to Maccabees I and drew upon it for historical information, but presented the same information in the spirit of Maccabees II - and it was this work, and not Maccabees I, which was preserved by the Jewish community throughout the ages.


Another support derives from the apparent origin of the Megilla. As is clear from the Geniza fragment and Paris manuscript brought by Abrahams, the Megilla was an interpolation in the Targum of the Haftara of Shabbat Chanukah74 - that is, Zecharya Perek 2, which deals (ostensibly) with the ultimate redemption.
The second source to which to turn to validate our theory is the liturgy of Chanukah. Scholars point to the use of phrases and themes from Maccabees I in Al Ha-nissim,75 the insert to the Amida and Birkat Ha-mazon which forms the centerpiece of Chanukah liturgy. The prayer appears to be composed of several pieces:
A. Introduction - Al Ha-nissim...

B. Recap of historical events - Be-yemei Matityahu...

I. Persecution - Ke-she'amda...

II. Divine intervention - Ve-ata...

C. Summary - U-lekha...

D. Epilogue - Ve-achar kein....


The prayer clearly orients the events and praise around two themes:
1. Nissim, Gevurot, and Milchamot - miracles, mighty deeds and battles, which, in the summary, translates into "For Yourself You made a great and holy Name in your world" - God's action on behalf of His Name.

2. Purkan and Teshu'ot - salvation and redemption, which, in the summary, translates into "and for Your people, Israel, you made a great redemption and salvation as this very day" - God's action to save His people.


These themes again appear to correspond to those enumerated above.76

The third source to turn to must be our text of discussion, 21a-24a; hence do we find:


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