Special Privileges – Chanuka

November 4, 2018 at 1:05 AM ,

“….The deliverances, miracles, and wonders which you have performed for our forefathers, in those days at this time, through your holy Kohanim….” – Haneiros Halalu

״….על התשועות ועל הניסים ועל הנפלאות שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה על ידי כהניך הקדושים…״ – נוסח הנרות הללו

Was the revolt led by the Chashmona’im sanctioned by Halacha?

To be sure, the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of G-d’s name, calls for a Jew to die rather than transgress the cardinal sins of idolatry, adultery, or murder. Additionally, in instances where an oppressive government attempts to abolish the observance of any particular mitzvah, the principle of Kiddush Hashem obligates a Jew to choose death rather than submit to their demands. Thus, in the era of the Greek oppression, the Jews were justified in sacrificing their lives when directly forced by the Greeks to choose between death and submitting to their decrees.


The revolt of the Chashmona’im, however, was not forced upon the Jews—it was their choice! And in a scenario where one is not obligated to forfeit one’s life, it is prohibited, in fact, to do so, according to many Halachic authorities (see Rambam, Yesodei Hatorah 5:4). How was it permissible for the Chashmona’im to willfully engage in a doomed war waged by “the few against the many” and “the weak against the mighty,” an act of certain self-annihilation?

This question is answered by the wording of the Haneiros Halalu hymn, which we recite after lighting the menorah. We read that the miracles were brought about “through Your holy kohanim.” Regarding the ruling of the Rambam that it is forbidden to forfeit one’s life in a case where there is no obligation to do so, the Kesef Mishneh notes: “Nevertheless, a distinguished person of exceptional piety and fear of G-d, who sees that his generation is in flagrant violation of a mitzvah, may sacrifice his life for its observance so that all will take note and be moved to fear and love G-d with all their hearts.”

Though such martyrdom was not required according to the laws of Kiddush Hashem, the prominence and social position of the Chashmona’im—they were “Your holy kohanim,” sons of the Kohen Gadol—justified their self-sacrifice for Judaism under any circumstance. Indeed, their revolt inspired a spirit of self-sacrifice in the rest of the nation as well, through which we merited the great miracles of Chanukah.


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—Likkutei Sichos, vol. 35, pp. 172-175






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