Yesterday, we explained that the rebellion of the Jews against the army of Antiokhus Epiphanes began with a very specific act: Matitiyahu HaCohen, also known as “Hashmonayí” the leader of the city of Modi’in, refused to obey the order of Antiokhus to make a sacrifice to a pagan idol, and instead of offering his life in martyrdom, allowing himself to be killed before worshipping an idol, he fought and eliminated those who brought the orders of Antiokhus. This heroic act inspired the armed revolution against the tyrant Antiokhus. And while the first step was taken by Matitiyahu, there were his five children: Yohanan, Yehonatan, Yehuda, Shimon and El’azar, who led the long war against the Greeks and liberated Jerusalem.
The main leader of the armed rebellion was the famous Yehuda Maccabee, who fought with great courage for two years, against a much superior enemy who had a much better organized army.
Finally, the 25th of Kislev of the year 165 BCE, Yehuda Maccabee and his improvised Jewish army defeated the Greeks, purified and rededicated the Bet haMiqdash. This day is known as Hanukka, when the Temple was dedicated again to HaShem and the miracle of the oil occurred.
What it is less known is that the wars against the Greeks continued for many, many years after Hanukka.
The Greeks did not give up. They came back with a more numerous army. But HaShem was on our side. In the year 164, Antiokhus came with his powerful Seleucid Greek army and sieged Jerusalem. It was unusual that the king himself was present in combat. But Antiokhus wanted to ensure personally that this would be the final battle against the obstinate Jews who had taken away from him the capital of the Greek province of Judea. Antiochus intended to destroy Jerusalem and its temple and kill all the Jews in the city. The Jews thought that their end was coming… On the 22th of Shebat of that year, news came to Antiokhus that the Parthians, one of the most feared armies of antiquity, were attacking the capital of his kingdom, Herat. Antiokhus decided to postpone his final attack against the Jews and led his army to fight the Parthians. In that war Antiokhus was defeated and killed by the Parthians.
In the 13th of the month of Adar of the year 161BCE the powerful Greek general Nicanor was defeated in battle by Yehuda Maccabee and his small army.
In the same year, 161, the Greeks sent to the General Bacchides, with a much larger army to fight Yehuda. In that battle Yehuda Maccabee was killed and his brother Yehonatan took the lead of the Jewish army.
In the year 151 the Greeks were defeated once again. But the tensions persisted. Yehonatan was tricked and killed by the Greeks, and in 142 his brother Shimon became the leader of Israel. It was Shimon who finally and after many years, was able not only to eliminate the Greek army but also to eradicate the Hellenic culture, and establish an independent Jewish State, where the Tora was again the only law for the People of Israel.
The victories of the Jews against the Greek army were not considered just an epic military victory, but above all, a series of miracles that occurred battle by battle.
For over two centuries, from 165 BCE until 68 CE, the Jews celebrated and thank HaShem with a special festival for each battle won against the powerful Greek army (22th Shebat, 13th Adar, etc.). An old book of chronicles composed at the beginning of the Common Era by Hananiah ben Hizqia, called Megillat Ta’anit, records all these holidays, a total of thirty-five, in which the victories of the Hashmonayim were celebrated.
However, after the destruction of the Second Bet haMiqdash in the year 68 of the Common Era, our Hakhamim understood that we could no longer celebrate those “national” victories because our Bet-haMiqdash, which also represented our political independence, was destroyed, and the people of Israel were defeated and in exile. The Hakhamim suspended the celebrations of all the military victories recorded in Megillat Ta’anit (בטלה מגילת תענית) except for one: “Hanukka” because of the miracle of the oil. This is why we celebrate Hanukka by lighting the candles. And it is for this reason that the festival does not focus on the military victories of the Hashmonayim, but on the miracle of the oil. Although still in the prayers of Hanukka (‘al hanisim) we mention, without much detail, the victories of Matitiyahu Cohen Gadol and his sons, and we recite the Hallel thanking HaShem for the many miracles that He performed to our ancestors, granting them victory against a more powerful and more numerous enemy.