The Few v. The Many

One of the more unheralded, even obscured, aspects of Chanuka is this question: where were the Jews? We exult in the notion that the victory came about miraculously – rabim beyad me’atim – with the few defeating the many. But why were the Maccabees the few and the Syrians the many? In every struggle for national liberation, the indigenous population is always more numerous than the occupying army, otherwise they do not constitute a nation and likely could not prevail. For example, the Jews before 1948 and the American colonists during the Revolutionary War both outnumbered the British occupiers. How could they not? Part of the problem of being an invader is that the native population is always more numerous. So what happened here that the Maccabees (never numbering more than several thousand, and at the beginning totaling in the hundreds) were the “few” who defeated the “many”?

The sad answer is that the “many” included not only the Syrian tyrant and his military forces but also the Hellenistic Jews who supported them. They were the “evildoers given over to the righteous” and the “brazen vanquished by those were faithful to Your Torah.” But why did the Hellenistic Jews want the Syrian-Greeks to win? Granted, they were imbued with the Hellenistic spirit – but what happened to their patriotism, their national spirit, and their sense of kinship with their fellow Jews?

Perhaps they were realists – and did not see any way in which the small band of guerillas could defeat the world’s most powerful army. So they made their peace with the devil. Such “realism” flies in the face of Jewish history – so they too were defeated. But there is another type of realism that is probably even more harmful.

As the Jewish world continues to fragment, we have grown accustomed to a painful mindset that is pervasive among certain segments of Jewry. For sure, there have always been pro-Arab Jews – Jews who cast their lot with our enemies. Many of the Israel’s most prominent and hateful critics are Jews who become willful tools of those who wish to destroy the Jewish state and bitterly oppose any expression of Jewish nationalism. Some of them traditionally write for the New York Times. Indeed, one of the quickest routes to media fame is to be a Jew critical of Israel in front of non-Jewish audiences.

Add to that list the deleterious phenomenon of the “moral equalizers,” those who see fault on both sides, who criticize Israel for any act of self-defense and weep at the suffering of our enemies – suffering for which our enemies themselves are usually the catalysts. This group is always seeking “peace” (meaning a treaty signing; what happens after is of little concern), strutting about with a faux moral supremacy that them, enlightened ones that they are, to see both sides, to see all sides. They lament, in the words of one, the entrenched “narratives of good and evil, victim and perpetrator,” eschewing a greater concern for their own people than for our enemies. As the writer Cynthia Ozick once noted, in many cases, “universalism has become the particularism of the Jews.”

But shouldn’t we care about our children more than about someone else’s children, or our parents more than another’s parents? Shouldn’t Jews be able to feel more loyalty to Jews before any feelings of loyalty to mankind? After all, that is the essence of nationhood and the hallmark of a people that sees itself as family.

Surely there were Hellenistic Jews who thought that the Maccabees could not defeat the mighty Syrian army – and there’s no sense in fighting a futile, suicidal war. Make peace with them, whatever it takes – and there are Jews today who believe the same thing. Compromise, concede, and hope for the best. That is one group of “realists” who maintain that when you cannot win – by traditional analysis – then don’t fight. Give up.

But there is another group of Hellenists. They don’t necessarily believe that the Maccabees cannot win; rather they believe that the Maccabees (or Israel) should not win. They think that winning is immoral. They are so permeated with a foreign culture and alien ideas that they do not want to win. They would rather lose and die and be perceived as virtuous, than triumph and live and be perceived as morally unfit by the cultural elites of the society in which they live.

And that is the dangerous world in which we live. Israel’s might is muted and its ability even to speak of victory is muffled when it has accepts the limitations placed upon it as well as the narrative of the impossibility of victory, the inevitability of two states, and – for many – the morality that exists on both sides – victim and aggressor, lover of all mankind and the hater of all mankind, and especially the Jews. Even the hater, after all, is a “child of G-d.”

This is why the Hellenist Jews fought against the Maccabees and preferred the Greeks, and it is why Israel cannot even fantasize about victory over its enemies, much less plan strategically for it. But that victory, that spirit, is the very essence of Chanuka, and the exhortation of the prophet Zecharia that our wars are not won with might or force – but with the spirit of G-d that animates our lives, preserves our morality, and will guide us to victory over all our enemies that will culminate in the rebuilt and rededicated Bet Hamikdash.

7 responses to “The Few v. The Many

  1. excellent article…happy chanuka from new mexico

  2. Rabbi Steven Pruzansky said:
    “But shouldn’t we care about our children more than
    about someone else’s children, or our parents more than
    another’s parents? Shouldn’t Jews be able to feel more
    loyalty to Jews before any feelings of loyalty to mankind?”

    Jewish Law teaches that helping relatives is a greater priority than helping strangers, and the closer the relatives are, the greater their priority. I do not have the exact sources in front of me now, but there can be no doubt that Rabbi Steven Pruzansky can find them.

  3. “In an article in The Jewish Observer entitled Pesach in Autumn, Rabbi Yisroel Greenwald describes his experience while learning in kollel in Australia. While originally he had gravitated towards those who were particularly successful in their fields of endeavor, his world view became changed and he was drawn to the heroes who were baalei teshuvah.

    One particular individual was particularly successful in his career in acting, with many female followers. When he decided to become a baal teshuvah, he struggled to master Gemara, and was having a particularly difficult time with parnassah and shidduchim, but was unwavering his commitment. Rabbi Greenwald took him to Rav Don Segal shlita for a brachah, and explained that his friend had given up a successful career, and left a life of prestige and fame to adopt a life of Torah.

    Rav Don lowered his head, and told him: I envy your share in the World to Come! The Rav was not one to offer unfounded compliments, yet he shared with this young [Jew] how precious his decision was in the Eyes of HaKadosh Baruch Hu.”

    SOURCE: Al HaTzaddikim 5 Types of Yidden by Rebbetzin Esti Reisman, Flatbush Jewish Journal, 2013 November 7, page 34

  4. Is this really true? It seems from all evidence that most Jews were simply indifferent. This is true in the case of almost all revolts. Indeed, there were very religious Jews who were opposed to the Maccabim.

    • Sadly, it is true. But, indifference in the face of religious persecution is the equivalent of acquiescence.
      – RSP

  5. From what I’ve read, even lots of hellenists supported the chashmonaim. Did they take up arms against the syrians? Probably not, but so didn’t most of the perushim.