Hanukkah: The Full Story Part 2 – Athens & Sparta

Read Hanukkah: The Full Story (p. 1) – What is Chanukah? now!


Seventy Armies in the Land

G-d created seventy nations in the world and every single nation was given its world mission and the boundaries and properties appropriate for it. Israel is the only nation whom G-d made into His “chosen people”, a nation that is connected to G-d and who remained devoted to Him, but G-d gave other nations praiseworthy qualities like beauty, courage, wisdom, and others.

May G-d Give Beauty to Yapheth

The Torah section of Noah begins (Genesis 6:9-10) “These are the generations of Noah, Noah was a righteous man he was perfect in his generations; Noah walked with God. And Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Yapheth.” Further on, Scriptures tell us: (10:2) said: “The sons of Yapheth were Gomer and Magog and Madai and Yavan and Tubal, and Meshech and Tiras.”

The father of the Greek nation was called Yavan, the fourth son of Yapheth. G-d gave Yaphet and his sons the quality of beauty and wisdom, as Noah blessed them (Gen. 9:27): “May G-d give beauty to Yapheth …”

It took the Greek nation one thousand and seven hundred years until this blessing was fulfilled and it became a prestigious world power during the days of Alexander the Great.

How did this happen??

Early Beginnings of Greece

In ancient times, the European continent was largely uninhabited. But over the years people migrated to it from the Eastern lands. Greece was one of the first places settled in Europe, and it developed an orderly civilization. Many tribes came and settled there, and over the years political life developed.

Greece is surrounded on three sides by the sea and it has numerous bays, so many of its inhabitants were seafarers. This fact had a major impact on the state of Greece: The Greeks easily reached the countries around them, and tried to conquer them. They were brave warriors, and waged many wars against their neighbors [of which one of the most famous was called the “Trojan War”].

On their many travels, the Greeks came into contact with different peoples and different cultures and learned from them: from the residents of Tyre and Sidon they learned how to read and write, from the Assyrians they learned how to calculate the paths of the stars, and from the Egyptians they learned to make various engineering calculations. The Greek culture developed, and over time they changed from students to leaders in the field of science. The Greeks laid the foundation of today's modern science.

Athens and Sparta

The two most famous cities in Greece were Athens and Sparta. There were major differences between these two cities, and each had a unique, different character.

Sparta is the mother city of sports and brute power. It was a military state, whose citizens were most soldiers. The men spent their lives in military camps, the children at an early age were taken from their mothers' laps and given a military education. They were taught to use weapons, and to adapt to difficult and exhausting army life. Each child was tested immediately after birth and if it turned out that he was a strong child who would be able to carry out his duties as a soldier well — well and good, but if not, he was thrown to the field, where he died!

Athens in contrast was a more diverse and amiable city. It had soldiers, artisans, merchants and seafarers. Those with talents and the tendency engaged in art and science, or philosophical investigation. The children of Athens studied various subjects, of which poetry, music and gymnastics had a prominent place.

Athens' artists decorated the city with works of art, talented architects built luxurious buildings that were famous for their beauty. Authors wrote plays, scientists made findings that were not known until then, for example, that the earth was a sphere. They found a way to calculate in advance when there would be a solar eclipse. The philosophers of Athens, of which the most famous was Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, engaged in philosophical discussions.

The term “democracy” was also first developed in Athens. Its cultured people did not submit to the rule of kings and tyrants, as was then the custom in the whole world, and eventually managed to form a “democracy” in which the people rule [Greek demos – people, cratia – rule]. The people elected their own governors and participated in general assemblies held in the city center, where they decided together the matters of state, such as whether to go to war or not.

Outdoor Culture

The city of Athens became a center of advanced culture, thus fulfilling Noah's blessing to his son Yapheth. Greece became a symbol of culture and beauty.

However, this beauty was external. It had a shine and beauty, and it was charming and attractive. “Greek wisdom” can make someone more knowledgeable, more advanced, more developed, but it does not penetrate his personality. It can not change something in the person’s essence. As Rabbi Yehuda Halevi expressed it ​​in his poems:

“Please look carefully, my beloved, and understand and turn aside from the snares, the small vessels,

And do not let yourself be enticed by Greek wisdom, which has no fruit – but only flowers.”

Greek wisdom has beautiful “flowers”, it has an impressive exterior, but it has no “fruit” — it has nothing that can improve a person. A person may be educated and civilized — but that doesn’t change anything inside his personality. It's like a trained animal: It can perform impressive tasks, it can show off extraordinary “tricks”, but it essentially remains an animal in every way. They say about Aristotle, one of the greatest philosophers of Athens, who taught legions of students concepts of morality, truth and justice, that one day his disciples saw him eating coarsely like an animal. “How can it be?!”, they wondered. He told them: “When I’m eating — I am not Aristotle …”

In the field of religion, morality and justice — the Greeks remained at the same primitive level of other nations. They worshiped idols, and acted in their personal and social lives opposite to ethics, justice and common sense.

Political Problems

Greece continued to develop, but serious political problems plagued her. The Persian kingdom, which was then a global empire ruling many countries in the world also conquered Greece. Of course, the Greeks did not want to be ruled by foreigners, and they did their utmost to resist and fight the Persians. Brutal wars took place between the Persians and the Greeks, during which wanton damage and destruction was caused to the cities of Greece.

The Greeks had another problem: the country of Greece has very high mountain ranges that separate the different regions. Because of the mountains, residents of various cities were unable to come in contact with each other, and over time began to feel that they were separate nations. Great wars were waged between the major cities over control of Greece. Sparta fought Athens and defeated it, and afterwards set the whole city of Athens on fire! Then the city of Thebes arose and fought against the Spartans, Greece became progressively weaker as a result of its internal wars.

While the cities of Greece were weakening and destroying each other, the state of Macedonia which was north of Greece great stronger. The Macedonians were a united and cohesive people. Philip the king established a well-trained army, equipped with effective weapons of war and original combat tactics. With the help of his army, Philip began to take over Greece, until he annexed it to his land.

Alexander and His Horse

During Philip’s reign over Greece, Greece paid a tribute to Persia. Every year Darius, the Persian king, would send messengers to Philip of Greece, demanding his taxes.

One day, Philip received from his friend the King of Prussia a very special gift — a huge and handsome horse, whose like had never been seen in the land of Greece. The horse was powerful and fierce, and would kill anyone who tried to approach him, so no cavalryman even attempted to ride it. Philip decided to lock the horse in an iron cage and any person condemned to death would be thrown into the cage.

One night Philip dreamed a dream, ini which he was told: “The man who will ride on your imprisoned horse, will rule after you!” Mr. Philip bided the dream in his heart, and waited to see how things would fall.

Philip had a fifteen year old son named Alexander. This son was born to him after many years and he was an unusual child. He had a head of hair like a lion, and large eyes — one blue and the other black, he had large teeth, and his voice was the voice of the eagle. At an early age he had acquired much knowledge, and was educated and brave. One day, Alexander walked past the cage of the horse, and looked at it. He reached through the holes and caressed the horse's neck. The horse, like an innocent lamb, licked Alexander’s hands. Alexander opened the cage, grabbed the horse’s neck and began to ride without reins or bridle.

When Philip heard this, he was very happy, because he realized that his son will reign here after him. He revealed his dream to his son, and his son answered him: “If you give me an army and chariots and horsemen, I’ll go fight your enemies. Then when I win wars it will be proven that the dream you dreamed is true.” Philip agreed to the request of his son, and gave him soldiers and cavalry. Alexander went to war, and indeed, wherever he went, he triumphed.

Kingdom of Greece Grows More Powerful

Later, Darius king of Persia sent envoys to Philip demanding him to pay his tribute as he did every year. But this time Alexander stood up and prevented anyone from paying the tax. He said to the messengers: “Go tell your king Darius, that as long as Philip had no children, he was a hen that lay golden eggs. But when his son was born, the hen stopped laying eggs …”

Darius’s emissaries were surprised at Alexander’s brazen and audacious response, and they hurried back to their country to report the budding revolt to their king. In the meantime, war broke out between Greece and nearby countries, and Philip died in the war. His son Alexander succeeded him on the throne and he was now called “Alexander Macedonia” after the name of his country of origin. When Alexander became king, a new fighting spirit began to blow in the Greek army. The new king united the Greeks, and suppressed the attempts at revolt in different Greek cities that tried to throw off the rule of the Macedonians. He devastated the city “Thebes” when they rose up against him, and after he consolidated his power inside the country, he inspired his army to go out to fight and conquer nations and countries, and especially Persia. He told the Greeks that now they would take revenge from the Persians for the great devastation they caused to their land.

Heading a strong and united army of 40,000 soldiers, Alexander set out on a journey to battle countries, with his main target the Persians. He fiercely wanted to subdue the great empire, and thereby accrue for himself fame and glory. His first battle took place in Asia Minor in the town of Issus where Alexander the Great attacked the large Persian army. In fact, the Persians were better equipped to win, but the problem was that its army was composed of various nationalities, so it was not united and cohesive. In contrast, the Greek army was a national army and united, equipped with effective weapons, and led by a talented commander. And so the battle in Issus ended in the victory of the Greeks.

Alexander Goes to Destroy the Temple in Jerusalem

Now Alexander the Great and his army headed towards the coast of Israel, to fight the allies of Persia and annex them to his kingdom. All cities surrendered to him — Acre, Ashkelon, Gaza. However, Alexander was held up in the city Tyre. He could not take it, because it was well fortified. He put it under siege for seven months, and during that time he asked the Jews to come to his aid. The Jews refused because they did not want to violate the oath they had sworn to the kings of Persia. However when Alexander turned to the Kutim (Samaritans) who were Jew-haters, they happily agreed to his request, and asked him that as payment for their help, he would allow them to destroy the Temple of the Jews in Jerusalem, which they claimed constituted a “threat” to his kingdom.

Indeed, after the city of Tyre surrendered, Alexander turned to Jerusalem in order to fulfill the promise that he had made to the bloodthirsty Kutim to destroy the Temple.

The Meeting with Simon the Righteous

On his way to Jerusalem, Alexander slept in a hotel, and had a dream. He saw a man clothed in linen standing by him, with a sharp dazzling sword in his hand, and he raised his sword over the head of the king. The king was seized with great fear and he asked the man, “Why do you want to smite me?” The man told him, “G-d sent me to go ahead and help you in your wars, and to subdue great and powerful kings before you. But now you shall surely die for deciding to go up against Jerusalem and do evil to the priests and people.”

The king pleaded with the man and said: “Please forgive the sin of your servant. And if it is evil in your eyes to go to Jerusalem, I will turn back!” The man said: “Do not fear, I accepted your entreaty. Now go to Jerusalem, and when you reach the city you will see one person like me, dressed in a garment like me. When you see him, quickly fall on your face, and bow down before him, and all that he tells you to do — do! Just remember that if you rebel against what I said, and will not do everything that I commanded you — you will surely die!”

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem panic reigned. Rumors were flying that Alexander the Great was approaching Jerusalem with a huge force, and he intends to destroy the Temple. The High Priest Simon the Righteous was informed of it. What did he do? He put on his priestly clothes, and took with him the leading Jewish notables of the city with torches in their hands. Throughout the night Simon the Righteous and his entourage advanced in the direction of Alexander’s army, while they advanced toward the city. When dawn broke they met with each other. When Alexander saw Simon the Righteous, he immediately descended from his chariot and bowed before him. His servants said to him: a great king like you, bowing down to this Jew?! He said to them: “I always see his image before I win my wars!”

Alexander turned to Simon the Righteous and his entourage, and asked them: Why did you come? They said to him: Is it possible that the place where they pray for the success of you and your kingdom idolaters should mislead you into destroying it?! He said to them: Who are those who misled me? They told him: The Kutim who are standing in front of you. He said to them: They are given over into your hand! The Jews immediately grabbed the wicked Kutim, who used to harass them at every opportunity, and stabbed them in their heels and attached them to their horses’ tails. They were dragged over thorns and nettles, until they came to Mount Gerizim, which was the place of the Kutim’s Temple. When the Jews came to Mount Gerizim, they plowed it over and destroyed it, just as the Kutim had sought to do to the Temple of our G-d, and that day, the twenty-fifth of Tevet, the Jews celebrated like a festival.

Read Hanukkah: The Full Story (p. 3) – The Hellenist Culture​ now!


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