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Rabbi’s Blog: Al HaNissim - Ours and Theirs

12/20/2022 04:31:13 PM


Dear OZ family,

The liturgy of “Al Hanissim” that we add to the Amida and to Birkat Hamazon, refers to the historical involvement of God in the Chanukah story as follows:

“You fought their battles, judged their claims, and avenged their wrongs”. This stands in contrast to the Purim liturgy of the blessing we say after the Megillah reading. There we speak of God Who: “Fights our battles, judges our claims, and avenges our wrongs”.

On Chanukah, the liturgy referring to those who were saved, is in the 3rd person plural (Ravta es rivam, danta es dinam), speaking to God directly, and is in the past. The Purim  liturgy refers to those who were saved in the 2nd person plural (Harav es riveinu v’hadan es dineinu), speaking to God in 3rd person,  and is in the present. What can account for these differences?

 The Purim enemy, the descendant of Amalek, planned to kill all Jews, men women and children, and although God’s name is hidden from the story that tells of this plan, the story was canonized in the Bible because we could see the hand of God putting all the right people in the right places, as if we could see God’s hand directly, fighting our battle. The war to defeat the enemy was fought behind the scenes and also represents the hidden nature of the name of the book and the heroine that made it all possible. That battle was not necessarily against God, or against Jewish observance, so God Himself remains in the 3rd person.

The Chanukah enemy is not interested in killing all the Jews. He is happy to allow the Jews to continue to prosper, under the condition of losing all distinctions with the society at large. That includes circumcision, our distinct calendar, our Shabbos, and our general adherence to Torah. Many Jews in the realm of Antiochus were happy themselves with this arrangement. This was a direct assault at our relationship with the Divine, and therefore we refer to God directly. The Jews in the Purim story banded together as one to pray for Esther’s success, but the Chanukah story pitted Jew against Jew over whether or not it was right to succumb to the demands of Antiochus. We therefore refer to this their battles and claims, in 3rd person, not 2nd.

Both these models of enemies have been replicated again and again in history. The one that would appear to need a more ongoing Divine involvement is the mortal threat presented by the Haman–like forces, and may explain why the Purim liturgy is in the present. The words themselves stem from a prophecy at the end of Sefer Yirmiyahu (51:36), and speaks to us in 2nd person, like the Purim paradigm.

We were unfortunately reminded of the Chanukah discord in our ranks at last night’s gathering in Times Square to protest the rise in Anti-Semitism. We have become accustomed to the despicable array of Neturei Karta protesters at the Israeli Day Parade along Fifth Avenue. At least that is an Israel event, as they are protesting Israel. Last night’s event was about Anti-Semitism in our city, and people dressed like them are the main victims of late. Yet there they were with their placards referring to Israel as a racist apartheid state in front of the eyes of the world. When we have an annual Yom Hashoah event in front of the Iranian embassy on the East Side, to remind the world of one country that continues to deny the Shoah while swearing to rain destruction upon millions of Jews today, these same despicable people are out there in support of Iran and in protest against Israel. This is not God’s battle, it’s our battle.

What we can do about Neturei Karta, I don’t know, but I do know that we need to draw closer to one another, and help fight each other’s battles. Let us draw closer to our loved ones, embrace our friends, reach out to newcomers, and make strangers feel at home.

Chag Urim Sameach,   

Rabbi Allen Schwartz    




Rabbi Allen Schwartz

Congregation Ohab Zedek

118 West 95th Street | New York, NY  10025-6604

Phone 212.749-5150, ext 200 | Fax 212.663-3635




Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784