With the setting of the sun on December 13 the third day of Chanukah for 5770 begins. On this third day we focus on the Maccabees. They were the sons of Mattathias the priest from Modi’in. They followed in their father’s footsteps taking on the Syrian-Greek army who did the will of King Antiochus in oppressing the Jewish faith. For three years from the 25th of Kislev in 167 BCE to the 25th of Kislev in 164 BCE the war raged on.
The title Maccabee was given in the book of Maccabees to the third son, Judah. Judah became the leader of the army and the clan. He was called Maccabee or hammer. His might and strength encouraged the Jewish fighters against the most powerful army of the day. He inspired his troops for God’s sake. His leadership provided direction and most importantly, when they prevailed against the Syrian Greeks and rededicated the Temple, his leadership energized the Jewish people and the Hasmonean dynasty was established through his brothers Jonathan and Simon.
Judah died later in battle in 160 BCE and was buried by his brothers in Modi’in. But in 161 Judah concluded the first treaty between Rome and the Jewish nation.
The name Maccabee means hammer but it might also be an acronym for the Biblical verse in Exodus 15. In this famous poem sung by Moses and Miriam after the Children of Israel safely cross the Red Sea (Yaf Suf), escaping the Egyptians, they sing Mi Camocha Baelim YHVH, Who is like You God among the gods that are worshipped? This understanding shows how Judah was filled with the spirit and blessing of God.
In either case, whether Hammer or an abbreviation of the Biblical verse, we learn a lot about this Biblical phrase.
So on this third day of Chanukah we dedicate it to the ideals of faithful leadership. Judah placed his faith in the Eternal but carefully and strategically led the Jewish army against those who would quash religious freedom and liberty. From him we learn a valuable lesson about leadership. Leadership demands faith, thoughtfulness and action.
On this third day may you be inspired by Judah Maccabee’s heroism and leadership. Stand tall like the candles in the chanukiah and like Judah Maccabee!