This Dvar Torah is going to relate what the story of Chanukah was and the brief background to it!
After the Jews already suffered during the period of the Persian/ Median exile, where Haman tried to destroy the Jews, thankfully unsuccessfully, Darius allowed the Jews to build the Second Temple! It was only several years later the Greek’s defeated the Perisan Empire and the Greek exile era started.
The earlier Greek leader was a great friend of the Jews, Alexander the Great (Yoma 69a). This was also a period when the Kohen Gadol of Israel was Shimon Haatzadik, he also inspired the Jews to be on a very high level (Yoma 39a). However as years went on, culture and attitude changed. Ptolemy was another leader around before the tenure of Antiochus, and in fact, he had the great sages translate the Torah into Greek language (Megilla 9).
However as time went on the Greek’s got tired of the Jews sticking true to their values and made various attempts into assimilating the Jew’s into foreign culture. When Antiochus became the emperor of Greece, it became the capital city for sports, events and theatres.
Anti Semitism started to grow, the Greeks decided to ban the Jews practicing three things in their religious activity that was the mitzvah of observing Shabbat, Circumcision and Rosh Chodesh, three vital components to Judaism. This was in hope that the Jews would assimilate totally into Greek culture.
The Temple services were also becoming corrupted at the time. In addition, there was a huge increase in the number of Jewish Hellenists, against orthodox Jewry at the time, the position of the Kohen Gadol and governmental positions in Jerusalem became more conservative and corrupt also.
The righteous Kohen Gadol of that time, Yochanan, was removed from his role and it was given over by Antiochus to his Hellenistic brother, Joshua, who adopted the Greek name Jason! Jason was very corrupt, but the next Kohen Gadol was even worse, Menelaus.
When Yochanan, the former High Priest, protested against the infiltration of the Hellenists impact in the Holy Temple, Menelaus decided to hire murderers to assassinate him. As the Greek’s were at war with the Roman’s, Anitochus was outside of Jerusalem. While fighting, a rumor spread that a serious accident had befallen him. Thinking that he was dead, the Orthodox Jews rebelled against the corrupt Menelaus. The treacherous Kohen Gadol fled together with his friends.
When Antiochus heard what had taken place in Jerusalem, he ordered his army to attack the Jews. Many Jews were unfortunately killed and he oppressed the Jews and the religion even more, ordering the burning of all Torah scrolls in the country and intensified his pressure on forcing all Jews to adopt a total Greek cultured life.
He ordered his army to go from town to town; stopping all Jews from practicing their religion, he tried to force the inhabitants to worship pagan gods.
He cruelly killed the Jews that refused, however, many heroic Jews refused to transgress against Hashem, thus sanctifying the name of G-d (Gittin 57b). Even one of the great elders of that generation, Rabbi Eliezer, a man aged 90, was ordered by the servants of Antiochus to eat pork (a non kosher food) so that others would be inspired to do the same. When he refused they suggested to him that he pick up the meat to his lips to appear to be eating. But Rabbi Eliezer refused to also do that and was put to a martyr’s death.
Antiochus’s army arrived in the village of Modin where Mattityahu, the old priest, lived. The Syrian officer built an altar in the marketplace of the village and tried to force Mattityahu to offer sacrifices to the Greek gods. Mattityahu adamantly refused stating that him and his family would not do it and not go against their forefathers (Avot).
A Hellenistic Jew came to that alter, ready to sacrifice under the officers instruction, then Mattityahu grabbed his sword and killed him. Then his sons and men killed many of the opposing Greek’s and chased the rest away. They then destroyed the pagan altar.
Mattityahu knew that Antiochus would fly in to a rage when he would hear what had happened. Mattityahu, therefore, left the village of Modin and ran away together with his sons and friends to the hills of Judea.
Many loyal Jews followed Mattityahu. They formed legions and from time to time they departed from their hiding places and attacked many of the enemy, in turn, destroying the pagan altars that were built by the order of Antiochus.
Antiochus then sent his General, Apolonius to wipe out Yehuda (son of Mattityahu) and his followers, the Maccabees. Though greater in number and equipment than their adversaries, the Syrian Greek’s were defeated by the Maccabees. Antiochus (the wicked Greek ruler) sent out another expedition which was also was defeated. He realized that only by sending a powerful army could he hope to defeat Judah and his brave fighting men. G-d was clearly on the Jew’s side.
An army consisting of more than 40,000 men swept the land under the leadership of the two wicked commanders, Nicanor and Gorgiash.
When Yehudah and his brothers heard of that, they shouted: "Let us fight unto death in defense of our souls and our Temple!" The people assembled in Mitzpah, (an area where Samuel, the prophet of old, had offered prayers to G-d). After a series of battles between them, the war was won miraculously by the Maccabies!
The Maccabees then returned to Jerusalem victorious and liberated the city. They entered the Temple and cleared it of the idols placed there by the Syrian vandals. Yehudah and his followers built a new altar, which he dedicated on the twenty-fifth of the month of Kislev, in the year 3622.
When they wanted to light the menorah, they found only a small cruse of pure olive oil bearing the seal of the Kohen Gadol Yochanan, which was miraculous. It was sufficient to light only for one day. By a miracle of Hashem, it continued to burn for eight days (Shabbat 21b), till new oil was made available. That miracle proved that G-d was protecting his nation, the Jewish people.
Although the exile was by no means over and further oppression was to come, the Temple service resumed. Shortly after this, the enemy, Antiochus, suffered a weird and painful unnatural death and died friendless (II Macc 9:5-12).
Also Nicanor, one of the nobles of the Greek Kings, used to wave his hands towards Jerusalem and blaspheme the Beit Hamikdash, when the Hasmoneans gained power and defeated them, they penetrated his armies and the killed him, it was on that day the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah (Taanit 18b).
We observe Chanukah by lighting the menorah for eight days, to commemorate the miracle of the eight days of burning of oil, moreover the Miracle of how G-d saved the Jewish religion spiritually!
This Dvar Torah is for the refuah shelaima of Ahuva Bat Chiria Chaya, who currently has health problems, please pray for her to make a healthy and full recovery. Dvar Torah by Michael Zaroovabeli, have a great Chanukah!