The Precedent for the Final Redemption
Rabbi Chaim Kanterovitz
In his assessment of the causes, and aftermath of the historical events that led to the establishment of the festival of Chanukah, Rambam (Maimonides 12th century Spain) writes towards the end of the first law:
“…וגברו בני חשמונאי הכוהנים הגדולים והרגום והושיעו ישראל מידם והעמידו מלך מן הכוהנים וחזרה מלכות לישראל יתר על מאתיים שנים עד החורבן השני”.
“…and the sons of Chashmonai the high priests overcame them and slay them and redeemed Israel from their hands and they appointed a king from amongst the Priests and the Kingship was returned to the Jewish people for over two hundred years until the destruction of the second Temple.” (Laws of Chanukah 3:1)
The emphasis of Rambam here on the Kingship is striking. It would seem that Jewish Sovereignty is the dominant theme of this festival. It is even more puzzling that the monarchs of the house of Chashmonai were not known for their devotion to the Jewish faith. In fact, historically the opposite was true. Decadence and not only disregard for life, but often outright acts of atrocities, accompanied this ruling class.
If so, what is Rambam emphasizing here? There is no doubt that Jewish Sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael plays a significant role in our outlook and perspective, especially in our generation, when we have been blessed with a Jewish State in our Homeland.
Yet looking deeper there is more to this comment than meets the eye.
Sefat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, 19th Century, Poland) in his teachings on Chanukah offers further insight…
“…על שם החינוך כי הוא הכנה וחינוך לגאולה העתידה…”
“…it is named (Chanukah) from the word Chinuch (educating) for it is a preparation and education towards the future redemption…” (Sefat Emet Chanukah 5647)
In deciphering the question as to the significance associated with Chanukah and the message meant for all time, Sefat Emet sees it as a preparation for the time when Jewish Sovereignty shall be restored in Eretz Yisrael, and the final redemption shall be complete.
Whereas on every other such occasion, power and authority were simply transferred from one gentile Kingdom to another, this time the Jewish Kingdom actually regained sovereignty and established its own monarchy.
In fact, the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish law) rules that when one encounters the ruins of a Judean city one should render ones garments and read the verse “Your holy cities have become desolate.” The Mishnah Berurah, in an illuminating comment, teaches that the issue is Jew-ish Sovereignty. So that if there is a city in Eretz Yisrael with a Jewish Majority, but under non-Jewish rule, one still renders one’s garments and reads this verse.
Yet the reverse is also true. A city under Jewish Sovereignty is no longer considered desolate, and therefore one need not tear one’s clothes as a sign of mourning or recite the aforementioned verse. (S.A: O.C 561-M.B: 2)
The kindling of the lights and recitation of a complete Hallel are both functions of the Temple service, in Temple times, under Jewish Sovereignty. Our sages established this festival, with all of its practices, as a way to keep the national memory of such time alive. It is a message of hope and anticipation for a time that as a nation we will return to our homeland and shine again as a light unto all peoples, heralding a new era for the completion of the final redemption.
Rabbi Chaim Kanterovitz is Senior Rabbinical International Educator at OTS and Director of the OMEK program