Why and How Women Save the Jewish People: An Analysis of the Most Famous Kohenet
Rabbi Dovid Asher
Keneseth Beth Israel
Throughout Jewish history, the often used reference is the refrain, “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat!” The 2,000 year old teaching from the Talmud has a different quote capturing our history, “b’zchut nashim tzidkaniyot niga’alu (In the merit of righteous women, we were redeemed).” The Rabbis of the Oral Tradition taught us thousands of years ago that the original redemption from the slavery in Egypt was wrought by the women who maintained their faith in G-d and the destiny of Israel. The men had grown despondent, and the women took it upon themselves to raise national morale. We’re told that the story Chanukah, like the story of Purim, mirrors the make-up of the original, more ancient deliverance found in the chumash (five books of Moses).
On this Chanukah occasion, the evil Greek general instituted a sinister decree, among many horrific decrees, to have every bride sleep with him before their wedding ceremony. A maiden of the Maccabees and the Hasmonean dynasty was due to get married. She was none other than Yehudit, the daughter of Yochanon the High Priest. When they were in his chamber, they dined and she made him drowsy by feeding him copious amounts of dairy product. When he began to dose, she assassinated him and the Jewish troops grew in confidence to fight an inspired war against their much larger enemy. Where did Yehudit get reassurance that she could accomplish this daunting mission? In Purim, where did Esther get her idea that she could save our people from destruction? The answer is that they were educated to know our history. They knew the model used for achieving freedom and becoming a people followed the bravery of the Jewish women among their ancestors. They simply used a tried-and-true formula that they knew would work.
When the odds are long and the hour seems bleak, we look at the candles of Chanukah and we reflect upon our collective ability to not just miraculously survive, but to thrive in foreign and in difficult environments. Today, anti-Semitism is on the rise in many countries around the world, yet we know the power of our belief is strong and the Almighty will carry us as always as per our eternal nature. King Solomon wrote in the first chapter of Mishlei, “Shema beni mussar avicha v’al titosh torat imecha. (Listen to the reproof of your father and the Torah of your mother).” The Jewish woman brings a unique strength that has the capacity to fortify our communities and to transmit the values needed to withstand untimely, existential threats. For thousands of years, Am Yisrael have been saved by their finest heroines. Chanukah is that singular moment in history when they didn’t want to necessarily commit genocide, but rather they wanted us to accept Hellenism over Judaism. Yehudit and her courageous family made sure that you and I would be here today thousands of years later to tell their tale and thus our sacred history of valor with conviction. Chanukah Sameach! Happy Chanukah!