Saturday, December 16, 2006

What is War? On Chanukah

Chanukah has two themes, often seen as opposites: the miracle of the oil, announced and discussed in the Talmud, and the military victory celebrated in the Al Hanisim prayer, and present in the various historical accounts in the Books of Maccabees, and Josephus. The early medieval Megillat Antiochus contains both stories. What is the connection between the two miracles?

What is war?

To the ancient Greeks, evidenced in Homer, men strove for honor. Winning on the battlefield was the greatest honor, public shame the worst thing that could happen. The battlefield was the greatest place to win honor, by killing one’s enemies. The Greek word Αγον, agon, meaning Conflict, was the core of this system. By engaging in conflict, inflicting agony on the enemy, one gained honor. War created the greatest honor, as in the Iliad, one brought honor to his city by fighting for it. War to the Greeks was an end in itself.

War, in the Jewish context, however, is a means to an end. The military wars, of the conquest of Joshua and of David, were not ends in themselves, but means to the greater end, of living in the Promised Land, of having peace so we could build a Temple and worship Hashem. War is also used in a moral sense: the war against the Evil Inclination, and the War of Torah, where scholars compete to gain better understanding of God’s Will, fighting over interpretations of the texts to reach God’s Truth.

The war of Chanukah, where the Jews, the priests, those who worshiped God in His Temple, fought off the Greek-Syrians and the Jewish Hellenists, was to an end – restoring the Temple and God’s worship. It was a war of ideology, between those who adhered to Greek victory-ideals, and those who adhered to war as a means to worship Hashem. Both miracles were necessary, to demonstrate this – that the war was necessary, to demonstrate the superiority of the Jewish concept of war over the Greek concept, and that the oil was necessary, to actually allow the Torah’s values to be restored, to allow God-worship to resume.

This drasha was delivered by R’ Dr. Moshe Sokol
at the
Yavneh Minyan of Flatbush,
Parashat Vayeshev, 5767 (
Dec. 16, 2006)

Summarized by Jonathan Baker


Anonymous said...

Interesting droshos.


Maybe you can make it a regular feature, reporting what your Rav said.

Ha-historion said...


How come none of the early accounts (Josephus, Maccabees) mention the oil miracle though?

micha said...

Etymologically, milchamah (war) would be a bread-getting activity.

It would make Marx happy...


thanbo said...

Probably Josephus and Maccabees were writing for more Hellenized audiences. Clearly Josephus was, for a Roman audience. Why don't Chazal write about the military victory? Each has their audience, their goals.