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Maccabees' Megillah, 4th Candle:

The First Rebel:
Mattathias the Loyal Priest and his Five Sons
from A Different Light: The Hanukkah Celebration, page 33

In those days [of religious persecution by King Antiochus], a priest named Mattathias moved from Jerusalem, and settled in Modiin [a provincial town]. He had five sons, John, Simon, Judah called Maccabeus, Elazar, and Jonathan. When he saw the blasphemous things that were going on in Judea and Jerusalem, he said with a heavy sigh,"Why was I born to witness the ruin of my people and the ruin of the Holy City, and to sit by while it is being given up to its enemies, and its Temple to aliens?" Mattathias and his sons tore their clothes in mourning.

Later, the king's officers who were forcing the people to give up their religion, came to the town of Modiin, to make them offer an idolatrous sacrifice. When many Jews, among them Mattathias and his sons, gathered together, the king's messengers said to Mattathias:

"You are a leading man, great and distinguished in this town, surrounded with sons and brothers; now be the first to come forward and carry out the kingšs command as all the peoples, all the men of Judea and those who are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be counted among the Friends of the King and will receive silver, gold and many royal commissions."

Then Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: "Even if all the peoples in the king's dominions listen to him and forsake each of them the religion of their ancestors, I and my children and my siblings will live in accordance with the covenant of our ancestors. God forbid that we should abandon the Torah and the ordinances. We will not listen to the message of the king, nor depart from our religion to the right hand or to the left."

When Mattathias finished speaking, a Jew went up before everyone's eyes to offer the pagan sacrifice on the altar in Modiin as the king commanded. Mattathias saw him and was filled with zeal. Shaking with emotion and unable to contain his anger, Mattathias ran up and slaughtered him upon the altar. At the same time Mattathias killed the kingšs officer who was trying to compel them to sacrifice, and tore down the altar. Thus he showed his zeal for the Torah, just as Pinchas [the zealous priest] did. Then Mattathias cried out in a loud voice in the town, "Let everybody who is zealous for the Torah and stands by the Covenant follow me." And he and his sons fled to the mountains and left all they possessed in the town.

Death on Shabbat in the Wilderness

[Due to the persecution] many seekers for justice went down into the wilderness to settle with their children, their wives and their cattle, because their hardships had become so severe. News reached the king's agents and the Greek forces that were in Jerusalem that people who had disregarded the king's order had gone down to the hiding places in the wilderness. The soldiers pursued them in force, overtook them, pitched their camp opposite [the mountain caves where they hid] and prepared to attack them on Shabbat.

The Greeks said to the Jews, "Enough! Come out and do as the king commands, and you will live." The refugees [from religious persecution] replied, "We will not come out nor do as the king commands and break the Sabbath."

Then the Greeks hastened to attack them, while the Jews made no response; they did not throw a stone at them nor block up their hiding places, for they said, "Let us all die guiltless. We call heaven and earth to witness that you destroy us unlawfully. [But we will not violate the laws of Shabbat by conducting war on this holy day]."

So the Greeks attacked them on the Shabbat, and the Jews died with their children and their cattle — a thousand people.

A Radical Religious Reform

When Mattathias and his friends learned of [the massacre], they grieved bitterly and said to one another: "If we all do as our brothers have done and refuse to fight [on Shabbat] against the pagans, for our lives and for what we believe is right, they will very soon wipe us off the face of the earth." On that day they reached this decision: "If anyone attacks us on Shabbat, let us fight against them and not all die, as our brothers died in the hiding places."


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