No Way!

When I was in Pre-1A, we put on a play during a school assembly around Chanukah time. The play was called ‘Chana and her seven children,” a tragic episode of faith and martyrdom that is recorded in the Talmud.

I am still not sure why this tragic story was chosen to be enacted by 5-6-year olds. But I surely wasn’t happy about my role in the play, as I will explain.

Here’s the story. According to the historian Josephus, this incident took place during the rule of Antiochus lV the vicious Assyrian Greek ruler who decreed laws forbidding Jews to study Torah or practice Mitzvos at the pain of death. The Greeks had overtaken our Temple in Jerusalem, and since the Temple was a stunning and breathtaking structure and the Greeks glorified physical beauty, instead of destroying the edifice, they preserved it. Sadly, they turned the Temple into a place of idol worship. Eventually, the few Maccabees revolted against the Greeks and were miraculously victorious. They rededicated the Temple and lit the Menorah with the one small flask that was found with a seal of purity which miraculously lasted for eight days, the time necessary to procure additional pure oil.

A widowed woman, Chana along with her seven sons were seized by Greek authorities. Each son was individually brought before the Caesar. The Caesar declared to the oldest, “Bow down to the idol!” The boy responded, “G-d forbid, I shall not bow down!” The Caesar asked why? He responded, “It is written in the Torah, “I am Hashem Your G-d.” They took him away, tortured him and killed him.

The second son was brought in and the Caesar made the same demand. The boy replied, “My brother did not bow, I will not bow either, for it is written in the Torah, “You should have no gods before Me.” They took him away and killed him.

The third son was brought in and he refused to bow by stating the verse, “One who brings offerings to the gods shall be utterly destroyed – only to Hashem alone.” They dragged him away and killed him.

The fourth son refused by stating another verse, “Do not bow to another god.” They took him away and killed him as well.

The fifth son was brought in and he refused to bow by declaring the first verse of the Shema. They killed him too.

The sixth son was brought in, and he stood in defiance by reciting the verse, “…Hashem is our G-d in heaven above and on the earth below – there is no other.” They took him and killed him.

The seventh, and youngest son – a mere few years old was brought in and he refused by quoting verses that speak of the Jewish people swearing never to exchange G-d for another, and G-d swearing that He won’t exchange us for another.”

When the Caesar saw how young this child was he began reasoning with him, promising him if he bows he would treat him well. The boy still refused. At this point the Caesar was humiliated and desperate. He said to the boy, “I’ll throw my signet ring (with an idol on it) on the floor and please bend down and pick it up just so they would say that you gave into my request.”

The young boy responded, “Woe to you Caesar, woe to you Caesar! If you are so concerned with your honor, how much more so are we to be concerned with the honor of G-d Almighty!”

Frantic, the Caesar said, “If your G-d is so powerful, why doesn’t he save you like He did to your ancestors?” Unfazed, the young boy answered with determination and resolve, telling the Caesar, “G-d will take revenge against you for spilling innocent blood because of your personal hatred toward the Jews.” The furious Caesar ordered the seventh son to be killed.

As they were leading him away, his mother Chana, who was watching the heart-wrenching proceedings, asked if she could kiss her son. Her wish was granted. She told her son, “Go up and tell Avraham our forefather, “You bound your one son, Yitzchok, on an altar and it was just a test. I bound seven sacrifices and they were actually sacrificed!”

She then pleaded with the Caesar to kill her first. The Caesar refused and killed the child before her eyes.

Through the terrible trauma and anguish she experienced, Chana lost her sanity and threw herself off a roof to her death. A Heavenly voice proclaimed a verse from Psalms, “The mother of children is joyous. She rejoices in her sons who gave their lives to sanctify G-d’s Name.”

The story is a testament to Chana’s sons pure upbringing in upholding the faith and belief in G-d and their determination in defying authority and threats in the most trying and challenging situation.

We also get a glimpse of the viciousness, cruelty and inhumane behavior of the Caesar and what the Jews had to put up with in that period of time.

G-d responded to the Macabbees’ pure resolve to stop such tyranny and religious persecution and granted them victory and the ability to rededicate the Temple in the purest and highest standard of service, allowing the Jews to practice in freedom. The Holiday of Chanukah with the emphasis on the lighting of the Menorah is a symbol that even during the darkest of times we have the ability to illuminate the world through our loyalty and devotion to Hashem and His Torah!

Oh, during the play, I was dressed as a Greek officer instructing Chana’s children, in Hebrew no less, to bow to the idol. I remember thinking to myself how can a Jewish boy make such a demand. I guess it was still a better role than that of the executioner. 😊