Chanukah

Maoz Tzur – Translation, etc.

June 29, 2006

Stanza One

O mighty stronghold of my salvation,
to praise You is a delight.
Restore my House of Prayer
and there we will bring a thanksgiving offering.
When You will have prepared the slaughter
for the blaspheming foe,
Then I shall complete with a song of hymn
the dedication of the Altar.

This stanza pleads for the reestablishment of the Temple Worship. It praises G-d as the “stronghold of our salvation,” Who has always come to our aid. He will take vengeance on His enemies, and restore the Temple as a House of Prayer for all nations.

Stanza Two

My soul had been sated with troubles,
my strength has been consumed with grief.
They had embittered my life with hardship,
with the calf-like kingdom’s bondage.
But with His great power
He brought forth the treasured ones,
Pharaoh’s army and all his offspring
Went down like a stone into the deep.

This stanza praises G-d for our liberation from the Egyptian bondage. Maharal explains that Israel’s destiny as a nation is not dependent on the general natural, physical, social or economic laws that govern the destinies of the other nations. Israel as a nation is placed directly under G-d’s protection. It was this nation that was brought forth from Egypt, in order that they “obey faithfully and keep his covenant.”

Stanza Three

To the holy abode of His Word He brought me.
But there, too, I had no rest
And an oppressor came and exiled me.
For I had served aliens,
And had drunk benumbing wine.
Scarcely had I departed
At Babylon’s end Zerubabel came.
At the end of seventy years I was saved.

This stanza recalls the period of time when we lived in peace in Eretz Yisrael, when the First Temple, built by Shlomo, was with us. Yet somehow, we fell prey to the blandishments of idol worship, and, for that sin, the Kingdom of Babylon, under the leadership of Nevuchadnezzar, besieged Yerushalayim, and destroyed the Temple. But after a brief (historically speaking) time of seventy years, Babylon fell to the Persians, and under the leadership of Zerubavel (identified with the Prophet Nechemiah) we once again obtained permission to rebuild the Temple.

Stanza Four

To sever the towering cypress
sought the Aggagite, son of Hammedatha,
But it became [a snare and] a stumbling block to him
and his arrogance was stilled.
The head of the Benjaminite You lifted
and the enemy, his name You obliterated
His numerous progeny – his possessions -
on the gallows You hanged.

This stanza recalls the potential disaster, due to our sins, and our miraculous salvation, due to our repentance, from the fiendish plan of Haman, at the time of Purim. Haman wished to destroy Mordechai and, with him, all the Jews, male and female, young and old. But G-d, by a hidden miracle, using apparent coincidence, plus the bravery of Queen Esther, saved the Jews. Haman’s plan was overturned, and he, together with his ten sons, were hung on the very same gallows which he’d prepared for Mordechai.

Stanza Five

Greeks gathered against me
then in Hasmonean days.
They breached the walls of my towers
and they defiled all the oils;
And from the one remnant of the flasks
a miracle was wrought for the roses.
Men of insight – eight days
established for song and jubilation

This stanza takes us back to Chanukah and describes the spiritual (not to mention physical) attack of the Greeks, under Antioches IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid monarch of Syria, who was the central foe in the Chanukah story. He advocated an intense campaign of Hellenization; that is, the spreading of Greek culture and ideas, and the Jews in Eretz Yisrael who remained loyal to the Torah, became his main targets.

The Greeks breached the walls of the Temple and defiled all the oils prepared for use in the daily lighting of the Menorah in the Temple. But one cruse of oil was found, and the Miracle of Chanukah was performed in behalf of the “roses,” a reference to Shir HaShirim (The Song of Songs), in which the mutual love between G-d and the Jewish People is the main theme. The Chashmonaim also achieved a miraculous victory, with the help of G-d, and they eventually gained independence for Israel for a time.

Stanza Six

Bare Your holy arm
and hasten the End for salvation -
Avenge the vengeance of Your servants’ blood
from the wicked nation.
For the triumph is too long delayed for us,
and there is no end to days of evil,
Repel the Red One in the nethermost shadow
and establish for us the seven shepherds.

This stanza asks the Master of the Universe to bare His holy arm and end our longest exile, the exile of Edom, the Red One, and usher in the Epoch of the Mashiach.