MA'OZ TZUR, by Daniel Pinner


Reveal Your holy Arm

and hasten the end of the Redemption;

avenge your servant's arm

from the evil nation.

For the redemption is so far from us

And there is no end to the days of evil;

Cast out the Edomite to the nethermost shadow

And raise up for us the seven shepherds.

(The final stanza of Ma’oz Tzur).

The six stanzas of Ma’oz Tzur constitute a Midrashic overview of Jewish history and weltanschauung in its entirety. It opens with a prayer that the Holy Temple be rebuilt, and that we slaughter sacrifices and our oppressors: and continues by recounting and thanking G-d for the various redemptions from Egypt, Babylon, Persia (Haman’s decree) and Greece; and ends with a plea for the final Redemption.

The clearest message of Ma’oz Tzur - which is the overriding message of Chanuka- is that there is a purpose and a direction to history. Every redemption of Am Yisrael, from Egypt to the Final Redemption, is not happenstance and is not a result of the chance whim of a benevolent king. Other nations may be enslaved and emancipated without the world being shaken: other peoples can be conquered and disappear, and join the ancient Egyptians, the Babylonians the Romans and the dinosaurs as relics of the past in the museums.

But when Am Yisrael - “this Nation that I formed for Myself to declare My praise” (Isaiah 43:21) - is conquered or redeemed, the results reverberate throughout the world for the rest of time. “Yehuda will dwell forever and Yerushalayim from generation to generation” (Joel 4:20), and when Israel is redeemed the Name of G-d is sanctified throughout the world.

Mordechai, the author of Ma'oz Tzur (the initial letters of the stanzas spell out his name), teaches us that for the redemption to be complete, it is not enough that Israel merely be emancipated physically. Israel’s emancipation is a function of sanctifying the Name of G-d and therefore perforce has to include a return to their land, the building of the Holy Temple, and vengeance being wrought on the nations who persecuted them. “Though I have cleansed, their bloodshed I do not cleanse - and Hashem resides in Zion” (Joel 4:21), and vengeance for the rivers of spilled Jewish blood is an intrinsic component of Redemption.

At the time of the first redemption, when Israel entered the Land under Joshua, the Cana'anite woman Rahab, made clear to the two spies why she, and all the Cana'anites feared Israel: “I know that Hashem has given you the Land, and that fear of you has fallen upon us…because we have heard how Hashem dried up the waters of the Sea of Reeds before you when you left Egypt, and what you did to the two Emorite Kings on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and to Og, whom you annihilated” (Yoshua 2:9-10).

In our days, it often feels as if “the Redemption is so far from us, and there is no end to the days of evil”. But if we can but look to the ketz, to the end, then we see Hashem. The Hebrew words hint at this: “Ki archah lanu hayeshua” (“for the redemption is so far from us”). True - it is far. Indeed, if “there is no end”, then all that remains is “the days of evil”.

But look to the end - the final letters: Ki ends with a yud; archa ends with a heh; lanu ends with a vav; hayeshua ends with a heh. At the end – after the days of evil, after the evil nation, after all the suffering - stands Hashem.

And who are the seven shepherds? The prophet tells us: “If Assyria will come into our Land and tread in our palaces, then we will raise up seven shepherds against him” (Micah 5:4). “ Who are these seven shepherds? David in center; Adam, Seth and Methuselah to his right; Abraham, Jacob and Moses to his left” (Sukkah 52b). Rashi (ad loc) addresses the obvious question: “And to where has Isaac disappeared? To save his children from the judgment of Gehinnom”.

We have returned to our Land; the end of the Redemption is approaching fast. As our Father Isaac defends us in the Heavenly Court, and our Fathers Abraham and Jacob, with the other shepherds, arise to defend us from the invaders, may we soon merit to see the light of the pure gold Menorah in the rebuilt Holy Temple.


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