Since we will begin to celebrate Chanukah this coming Tuesday night, BE”H, let’s explore and achieve a better understanding of the most well known song of Chanukah, “מעוז צור- Rock of Ages”.
To identify the author of Maoz Tzur, simply read the acrostic (first letter of each stanza) and you’ll see his name – מרדכי. Very often we can find the name of the author of Zemirot and Pizmonim built into the fabric of the song/hymn.
The content of Maoz Tzur charts our voyages through exile throughout the centuries. In it we also pray to Hashem to return us to His house, the Beit Hamikdash, where we will one day soon renew the Temple service, light the Menorah, and witness the return of G-d’s greatness and splendor to the whole world.
Each paragraph deals with a different Jewish experience in the Diaspora. After the opening praises to G-d, the second stanza “רעות שבעה נפשי” is about our stay in Egypt for 210 years which culminated in our Exodus while Pharoah and his army drown in the Yam Suf-Red Sea. “דביר קדשו” tells of the Babylonian exile where we resided for 70 years until returning to Jerusalem led by the great Ezra the Scribe. “כרות קומת” refers to our frightening encounter with Achashverosh and Haman in Persia which left Haman and his children (רוב בניו) dangling from a tree. “יונים נקבצו”deals with our current holiday Chanukah. It is about our battle with the Greeks and its seductive culture, which results in a military victory by the Maccabees, as well as the miracle of the oil in the Temple. Finally “חשוף זרוע” calls upon Hashem to “Bare his Forearm (so to speak)” and finally bring us out of our current exile, Galut Edom, which has lasted over 2000 years, and bring comfort to the people of Israel through the rebuilding of Jerusalem.
The word “צור” which refers to G-d, is translated as a Rock. The Torah, Talmud, and Siddur refer to Hashem in many different ways, but a rock? How can we understand this? The answer is that a rock symbolizes something one can lean on and find support no matter how unstable he or she feels. This is what Hashem is to every single one of us. No matter what predicament we find ourselves in, we have a “Rock” to lean on. In essence this is the message of Chanukah and also the message of Maoz Tzur. No matter what land we are in, no matter who our enemies are in any generation Hashem is there to provide support.
The word Tzur is also found in the prayer of “אין כאלוקינו”. The verse reads “אין צור כאלוקינו” translated, as there is no Rock like our G-d. The Talmud interprets the word צור as related to the word ציר which means Artist, teaching that there is no artist like Hashem. Who else could create the Swiss Alps, Hawaii, and the Grand Canyon, let alone our exquisite spiritual homeland Israel? Who else could create a human being with all of its complexity and a heavenly soul within? Only Hashem, the greatest artist of all.
So what is Hashem, a Rock, or a Creative Artist? The answer is that he is both! A creative artist is often perceived as otherworldly, artsy, and possibly eccentric, not necessarily stable and reliable. Only G-d can be the most creative artist in the history of the universe, but also be the “rock of ages” that provides support, strength and direction.
As we stand in song this coming week chanting the Maoz Tzur, May the Great Rock/ the Great Artist hear our prayers and rebuild the third Beit Hamikdash soon in our days.