This Will Shock the Hellenist Out of You

December 18, 2014

did you hear the news?


It’s not the latkes or the jelly donuts. It’s not the dreidel or the gelt. It’s not even the quality family time. (Sorry, family.)

No, my favorite part of Chanukah is…the fight.


I am an unapologetic Maccabee, at least I try to be. In fact, when I was considering writing my blog under a pseudonym, I actually purchased the rights to the name, Lady Maccabee.

I get my marching orders from the prayer, Ve’Al HaNissim, commemorating the Jews’ military victory over the Greeks, when G-d “delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few.”

This prayer reminds me not to be intimidated or disheartened by opposition, no matter how formidable it appears.

Why the addition of Lady?

Because to truly win in anything, especially anything spiritual, the victory must be a feminine one–not through intimidation or physical subordination, but through understanding and transformation. The womanly way to win is to carefully nurture ideas so they are internalized willingly. (Of course, for the times when the enemy can’t be transformed, the Chanukah story includes brave, clever, and beautiful Yehudis, who decapitated a Greek general to save her besieged town–apparently we Jewish girls have it in us to do what’s necessary when victory requires more than just sharing ideas.)

There’s a lot more to the Chanukah story than many people know, so I will try to be delicate as I share how I experience its eternal lessons.

Because the Hellenists worshipped physicality, they appreciated the intellectual wisdom and beauty of the Torah. That’s why they allowed the Jews to observe the rational mitzvos– mishpatim are “judgments” that make for peaceful society and eidos are “testimonials” regarding the Jewish nation’s experience.  But the mitzvos that transcend human intellect–chukim,  the “decrees” that we follow because we understand that G-d is beyond our understanding–were forbidden.

To preserve the G-dliness of Torah–complete, Divine, and beyond understanding– the Maccabees waged war, crying, “Let us fight unto death in defense of our souls and our Temple!”

And when the Jews wanted to rededicate the Temple after their victory on G-d’s behalf, they actually found several vials of oil in the Temple with which to light the menorah.

There was one slight problem with these vials– on each one, the Greeks had deliberately broken the seal from the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. The Hellenists’ intent was to defile the oil spiritually, but preserve it physically. The Jews found only one vial of oil that met the prerequisite for ritual purity– the seal of the High Priest still intact– and this was the vial they used.

The newly rededicated Jews demurred, however, and insisted on using this one spiritually pure vial–after all, the whole war was waged over spirituality–even though they knew it would take a week for the High Priest to prepare more. For this transcendent commitment to G-d and His Torah in the most scrupulous manner possible, G-d contravened nature and performed a miracle; the pure oil burned for an extra seven days until the new shipment arrived. (Interestingly, Torah law permits the use of  “impure” oil for communal purposes when there is no alternative.)

This is not the Chanukah story of my youth. I may have been distracted, thinking about my eight presents or wondering if Hannukah Harry really existed, but I distinctly remember hearing that the Jews found only one jar of oil that miraculously burned for eight days. And I don’t remember anything about Greeks allowing certain mitzvos but not others. I never even heard of Yehudis.

But now I know that there was more to the story. I also know that every Jew has an inner Maccabee that connects us to G-d beyond the natural order and that, sometimes, just a little new information is all we need to be ignited spiritually. Towards that end, please share this post with anyone whose inner Maccabee you feel you could ignite, so that G-d sees our commitment to Him and redeems us from the spiritual and physical enemies that become more threatening every day!









  1. Reply


    I enjoyed the article as I always do, but I felt this one was a little sexist. You imply that intimidation and physical subordination are masculine and nurturing is feminine.Why do you feel that men can’t get their way without resorting to violence or the threat of it? Then you say that the lady who beheaded the general had no other choice, implying that men act violently when they have other choices?
    I feel men and women can both be nurturing and aggressive equally.

    1. Reply

      Lieba Rudolph

      Thanks so much for writing, Shaya. Admittedly, we are speaking in generalities, but don’t you think aggressiveness is considered to be a masculine trait and nurturing is typically feminine? As physical creations, men and women combine both of these traits, though they may be manifested differently. And while aggressiveness has catalyzed much of what has been accomplished in the world for all these thousands of years, in ways of revealed good and hidden good, we are entering the era of malchus, the feminine realm, when all of physicality will be nurtured into spirituality. My hope is that, through my aggressive yet thoughtful writing, I can be part of that nurturing. What do you think?

  2. Reply

    Cheryl Weisberg

    Beautiful post this week Leiba!
    Seriously, this definitely struck a ‘spiritual’ chord with me,
    and will certainly share.
    Happy Hanukah to you

    1. Reply

      Lieba Rudolph

      Thanks, Cheryl–I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your feedback! I hope you have a wonderful Chanukah and may we continue to strengthen each other!

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