Who, really, were the Maccabees? We’ve always learned about the courage of the five sons of Mattathias: Yohanan, Shimon, Yehudah, Elazar and Yonatan. Yehudah–the Judah Maccabee of classic Jewish folklore, is the symbol of military strength in the face of persecution. Then there’s the heroism of Elazar, who took on the elephant in an act of martyrdom. And we know the family did well, establishing the Hasmonean dynasty for five generations.
That’s what we’ve learned, but it isn’t a complete picture. By no means was Mattathias’ house united. Some of his sons favored resistance; others chose the path of diplomacy. The full story of the Maccabees is often relegated to history books. We rarely trot out that full story on Hanukkah.
In every generation, it seems, we are destined to struggle internally over how to proceed in dealing with crisis. The schools of thought harbored by Zionist leaders such as Ben-Gurion, Weizmann and Jabotinsky could not have been more diverse. Today, we are troubled and conflicted by the news of a temporary deal with Iran and its nuclear ambitions. Israelis yet again debate: to strike or not to strike?
All historical narratives are complicated in their aftermath, and even more so when they are happening. What really happened with the Maccabees, and can we learn anything from them about how to respond to today’s tough questions? We’ll look closely at the Maccabees on Shabbat morning.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Hag Urim Sameah,
Rabbi David Wise