In this special tefilla we add into our amida and our bentsching, we learn the nature of the insidious battle with the Greeks.
We say בִּימֵי מַתִּתְיָהו בֶן יוֹחָנָן כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל חַשְׁמוֹנָאִי וּבָנָיו כְּשֶׁעָמְדָה מַלְכוּת יָוָן הָרְשָׁעָה עַל עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהשַׁכִּיחָם מִתּוֹרָתָךְ.
‘It was in the days of Matisyahu, the Hasmonean, son of Yochanan the High Priest, when the evil kingdom of Greece arose against Your people Israel, to make them forget Your Torah.
The tefilla does not say that the Greeks rose up against the Jews. The tefilla says the Greeks arose against Your nation, the Jews. The Greeks did not want to destroy us physically. They wanted to live side-by-side, sharing culture in love and brotherhood. What they wanted was to extinguish our eternal light. The spiritual illumination that the Jewish people bring to the world. They wanted us to forget that we are Your people. That we are the children of Hashem. That we are the lamplighters (Lubavitcher Rebbe) of the world. They wanted us to conflate truth and falsehood. They wanted to blur the lines of tamei and tahor. Their biggest threat was not decimating us. Their worst weapon was opening up the sealed jugs of oil. Trying to demonstrate that there is no difference between pure and impure, tainted and untouched. That religion is fine, as long as it is nothing more than ritual. (Rabbi A. Landau)
The tefilla doesn’t say that the Greeks wanted us to forget Torah. They didn’t mind if we parroted portions of an ancient text. They wanted us to forget Your Torah. To forget that Torah is what binds us to our Creator. That Torah is the only truth and our only guiding light. They wanted us to see Torah as a rich cultural text, and nothing more. They wanted us to study it like a maths textbook, like a selection of philosophy essays. Not to use it to build a beautiful, loving relationship with our Father in Heaven.
Our greatest response to the Greeks is to strengthen that which they sought to extinguish. Let’s remind ourselves, through this tefilla, that we aren’t just ‘Jewish,’ we are the children of Hashem. We are people who carry our flame of holiness wherever we go. Let’s learn a piece of Torah this Chanuka. Not like an academic textbook. A real, passionate Torah idea that helps us carve a vibrant relationship with our Creator.