by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
We read in Al HaNissim ["For the miracles" - the section added to the
Amidah and Grace after Meals throughout Chanuka] that part of the great
miracle was that G-d "delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak,
the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the
pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners
into the hands of those involved with Your Torah." The first two
phrases - referring to the weak and the few - clearly point to the
miraculous nature of the events. But why then does it add that the
Chashmonaim were pure, righteous, and involved with Torah? How does
this add to the miracle?
For a hint at the answer, we should look at another anomoly: the Torah
consistently fails to say that the Jews killed people "with swords".
As an example, when Israel fights against Amalek the conclusion is that
"Yehoshua weakened Amalek and his people with the 'Pi' of the sword."
(end of Parshas Beshalach, Ex. 17:13). Pi, although we would translate
it as an "edge" (and this is indeed a common meaning), literally means a
mouth. The Targum translates this as "with the prayer of the sword," a
killing prayer. The Targum claims that Yehoshua won not by using his
sword, but rather by praying. Throughout Torah, we find this expression
"the 'Pi' of the sword," and Targum explains that the reference is not
to the edge of the sword (which would involve unnecessary verbiage) but
to a killing prayer.
[Parenthetically, the few verses before that are also worthy of note. It
says that Moshe went up on the overlooking hill, and "whenever Moshe
raised his hands, Israel was stronger, and whenever he lowered his
hands, Amalek was stronger." Rabbi Shlomo Yitchoki (Rashi) points us to
the Talmud Rosh Hashana 29a, in the Mishna: "Do the hands of Moshe make
or break the war?! Rather, it tells you that as long as Israel was
'looking upwards' and committing their hearts to their Father in heaven,
they were strengthened, and if not, they fell."]
Only once do we see that Israel actually killed someone "with a sword,"
and this was Bila'am, who had so recently come to curse the Jews. Rashi
says that this exception is not mere coincidence, but makes a crucial
point: "[Bila'am] came upon Israel, and he traded his area of craftsmanship
in favor of theirs, because they do not win except with their mouths, BY
WAY OF PRAYER AND REQUESTS, and he came and grabbed their craft in order
to curse them with his mouth. So they too came upon him, and they
traded their craftsmanship for that of the nations, who come with
swords, as it says [in the blessing Yitzchok gives to Esav, Gen. 27:40]
'by your sword you will live.'"
What "Al HaNissim" tells us is that Israel cannot rely upon its military
might - because this is Esav's area of expertise. Rather, we must
remember that the victory of the pure and righteous is every bit as
miraculous as that of the few and the weak... totally dependent upon our
Father in heaven, to whom we must pray during these troubled times.
Text Copyright © 1994 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.