A Different Type of Hero - Huffington Post 12.15.2014
Judah Maccabee is one of the great heroes in Jewish history. He is typically viewed as a brave warrior and military genius, who led his men to victory against seemingly insurmountable odds in his battle against Antiochus IV and the Seleucid Greeks. However, I would posit that Judah's true greatness stemmed from the fact that he never lost sight of the real Source of his successes.
It is easy for many to be defeated by few, for in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between saving by many or by few. It is not on the size of the army that victory in battle depends, but strength comes from Heaven. They come against us in great disrespect and lawlessness to destroy us and our wives and our children, and to despoil us, but we fight for our lives and our laws. He himself will crush them before us. (I Maccabees, 3:18-22)
Judah's heroism was rooted in the purest of all sources, a zealous love of his religion. He fought not for his own selfish end, nor from a passion for victory on the battlefield. Rather, a spirit of self-sacrifice guided him. He understood that God was calling to him. He could not decline his historic mission.
The reign of Antiochus IV marks a turning point in Jewish and world history. Unlike the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians, whose persecution of the Jewish people was aimed primarily at our political strength, Antiochus took aim at the Jewish religion.
Had Antiochus been successful in his attempts at hellenizing the Jews of Judah, all of Jewish and world history would have been permanently altered (Chrisitianity and Islam, the two largest monotheistic faiths that were inspired by Jewish thoughts and beliefs, both came into existence centuries later). Only the brave resistance of the Hasmoneans and their followers, who risked their lives for the sake of preserving their religion, would ensure the future of the Jewish people.
In the words of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch:
It was not the courage of the Hasmoneans, nor the sword of the Maccabees...for whom (Chanuka) was decreed. Lights are its symbols, not signs of might and dominion. It was not Judah Maccabee who defeated Antiochus of Syria; it was the Jewish light which gained the victory over the dazzling luster of Hellenic splendor. The spirit which Mattisyahu had harbored in his priestly breast and had nurtured in his children, was the rock upon which the Hellenic evil was smashed. This sprit... maintained the law amongst the people. (Collected Writings, Volume II, Feldheim, New York, p. 210)
More than anything else, Judah and his followers were "saints of the most high, without whom the Torah would have been forgotten from Israel" (Nachmanides, commentary to Genesis 49:10). It was through such heroes that God would ultimately deliver His people.