When we think about a miracle, we picture a sudden event, or a sharp upheaval, of the nature of the splitting of the Reed Sea, the Revelation at Sinai, or the earth swallowing Korach and his assembly.
The miraculous victory of Chanukah could have been the same. But the Chanukah miracle was completely different.
The Greeks ruled freely for one hundred and eighty years until Matityahu, the aging High Priest, destroyed the altar of the idol in his village of Modiin, climbed its ruin and cried, “Whoever is for Hashem – come to me!”
His five sons, led by Yehudah HaMaccabi, gathered around him, joined by a handful of fighters. Matityahu died at the beginning of the revolt, and his son, Yehudah was crowned its leader. Apollonius, the commander of the Shomron sector, alerted the garrison to quell the revolt at its beginning. Yehudah HaMaccabi and his handful of fighters – farmers who had no military experience, and no weapons – armed with sickles and pitchforks –surprised the organized soldiers with an attack. The array was breached, Apollonius was killed and his soldiers ran away in a panic.
Yehudah’s men stripped the fallen, and armed themselves with swords and spears. They celebrated their victory with thanksgiving to Hashem.
Then Sirion, the great regional army commander, was summoned. Sirion readied his soldiers, crossed the Gilad and descended to the coastal plain, his army ready in the Ayalon valley for a crushing attack. For his part, Yehudah prepared for battle by declaring a day of fasting and prayer. The day after the fast, Yehudah’s men glided down the incline of Beit Choron and dispersed Sirion’s army to the four winds. A miracle.
The Emperor, Antiochus, was mad with rage. He decided to squash the revolt that was endangering the empire’s integrity. At the head of forty thousand soldiers, and seven thousand horsemen, he placed three experienced generals, veterans of battle. Yehudah gathered his troops for a day of fasting and prayers in the settlement of Mitzpeh, opposite conquered Jerusalem.
As the Greek regiment was making its way to Mitzpeh, Yehudah led his fighters to Emmaus Valley. They surprised the complacent Greeks, burned the camp down, and killed two thousand fighters and one thousand horsemen. Another miracle.
Antiochus, again mad with rage, sent the commander of his army, at the head of sixty thousand fighters and five thousand horsemen. Yehudah’s soldiers descended from the mountains and struck them down without mercy. A few hundred fighters had destroyed sixty thousand soldiers and five thousand horsemen. Another miracle.
Yehudah conquered Jerusalem, without a fight, and renewed the service in the Temple. The joy was mitigated because there was only enough oil for one day. And then, miraculously, the oil sufficed for eight days, until pure oil could be prepared. Another miracle.
There is a message here for us; a lesson for generations:
In each and every one of us, there is a small Antiochus; a Greek tyrant that conquers and suppresses us - the evil inclination, who tyrannizes and incites us and who tries to imbue us with Greek wisdom, spirit, and values; to halt the Temple service of our hearts, and to breach our walls.
And our obligation – like Matityahu and his sons – is to raise the banner of the revolt. To overthrow the regime of the enemy. To renew the holy service.
How do we accomplish this? From the Hasmonean revolt we learn this isn’t a case of a one-time victory; this is an ongoing war, a series of exhausting battles that become more onerous.
The process of the Hasmonean revolt was gradual; a series of small victories that built on one another and led to greater challenges and greater victories. What would have happened had the entire Greek army been sent to quell the revolt in its infancy?
But that isn’t what happened.
We learn from this that a person isn’t tested except according to his strengths! He will not be sent a test that he can’t withstand!
“Whoever is greater than his friend, his inclination is greater than his,” The evil inclination is big, huge, a flaming fire. For us, the small ones, the fire has been turned down so that we wouldn’t be presented with what would be, for us, an impossible test. But the greater a person is, the more he requires clear Heavenly intervention to subdue his inclination!
This is what they said in the Midrash on the verse “Hashem tests the righteous one”. The Creator does not test shaky vessels; that if you just tapped them, they would break. Whom does he test? Beautiful vessels that even when hit several times, they won’t break!
Nevertheless, even given the fact that the test fits the person – there still is the matter of a miracle. The few and weak against the many and strong. That a family beat a platoon, that several dozen beat a regiment, and several hundred beat an army. At every stage, the campaign was tailored to the competitors – together with a measure of Heavenly assistance; the miracles were from Above. That’s how it was with the Chanukah miracle, and so it is with eradicating the small Greek within us: A man’s inclination overcomes him every day, and tries to kill him. And without Hashem’s help – he wouldn’t be able to overcome it.
Indeed, the final victory was attained through clear Providence. A revolt erupted in Antiochia, and the Greek commander rushed to make a peace treaty with Yehudah that ended the siege.
When we’ve done everything in our power, we’ve cleared the hall and rebuilt the destroyed altar, we’ve searched for, and found, the pure pitcher, we’ve lit the menorah, in short, we’ve done our part – then Hashem’s help comes in abundance; to defeat a vast army, or to defeat the evil inclination.