December 15, 2017
Believe it or not, the Rabbis 2000 years ago were uncomfortable with the Macabbees! The heroic efforts of Judah Macabbee and his brothers was undoubtedly laudable, but the corrupt descendents of the Macabbees who declared themselves kings and high priests of Israel were less honorable, and the rabbis were reluctant to praise them. In fact, one of the concluding Haftarah Blessings chanted on Shabbat tells us: “May a stranger never again sit on David’s throne.” The Rabbis felt that the fact that the descendants of the Maccabees declared themselves kings was inappropriate since they were not part of the Davidic dynasty and were not in King David’s family or even from his tribe (the Tribe of Judah)! On Shabbat Hanukkah, the blessings and readings reflect the ambivalence of the Rabbis.
In the Amidah prayer, the special insert for Hanukkah mentions Mattathias, the father of the 5 Macabbee brothers, but continues to praise not the warriors, but God’s power in saving the Israelites. “In Your abundant mercy,” this special prayer tells us, “you stood by them in time of distress.” For the rabbis, God was the true hero of the Hanukkah story, not human beings. That is why the Hanukkah Haftarah (the section for the Prophets which is read on Shabbat) from the book of the Prophet Zacharia (4:6) who declares: “Not by might, and not by power, but by my spirit alone says the Lord of Hosts.”
Hear Debbie Friedman singing her famous setting of Zacharia 4:6