Rabbi Berel Wein
In 165 B.C.E., the Seleucid Emperor of the North is a man called Antiochus Epiphanes . He decides that once and for all hes going to solve the Jewish Problem. Hes going to force the Jews to accept Greek way of life, religion, values, etc. Through force, he forbids circumcision, keeping of the Sabbath on Saturday, makes them eat swine and non-kosher foods. He is assisted by a group of Jews themselves, the Hellenists, who believed in Antiochus plan and detested their own culture. This is a phenomenon that occurs throughout Jewish history- that there always is a portion of the Jewish people who are willing to negate their own tradition and values in favor of some new values which they think will conquer the world. This is a recurring situation, where Jews give up their own tradition in favor of some new wave of the future. Inevitably, they fail, and it is a tragic situation since some many people are lost. Its sad that so much effort is wasted, effort that could have been spent developing a true relationship with the non-Jews.
In 165 B.C.E. the Jews reached the breaking point. In every town, Greeks send in an army and force the Jews to sacrifice a pig to a Greek god. When they come to the town of Modiin (which now is a large city in Israel, but then was a village), they come to the family of the Hasmoneans, the family of Mattityahu, Mattathias. There they met their match- when a renegade Jew came to the alter to sacrifice a pig, the Hasmoneans rally the Jewish people and fight off the Greeks- declaring a rebellion. Mattathias uses the famous phrase taken from Moses by the Golden calf- Who is unto the Lord let him come unto me! They rally the Jewish people, and in a 3-year guerilla war and finally open battle they are able to overcome the numerically superior Greeks and are able to free the country from Greek rule. They recapture the Temple and purify it, finding a small cruze of oil that still had the seal of the high priest and lit the great Menorah. The oil which was only sufficient for one day miraculously burns for 8 days. This becomes the basis of the holiday of Chanukah- which we celebrate till today by lighting candles.
The war cost a great amount of hardship and lives. Mattathias himself perished, as well as 4 of his 5 sons. Simon survives and becomes the head of the Jewish people. He does not declare himself King but rather calls himself the first of the equals, since he knows the King must come from the lineage of King David. He arranges a council of elders that becomes the ruling part of Israel. The Jews enjoy a spate of freedom. The Hasmonean Kingdom will last for 103 years until it finally succumbs to the Romans.>