Tefillah Tips - Chanukah Tips

As we celebrate Chanukah I feel it is again worthwhile to invest a minute or two to understand the most well known song of Chanukah- “Maoz Tzur- Rock of Ages”.

To identify the name of the author of Maoz Tzur simply read the (acrostic) first letter of each stanza and you’ll see his name – Mordechai. This is quite common to find the name of the author of Zemirot and Pizmonim built into the fabric of the song/hymn.

The content of Maoz Tzur conveys the long and bitter exile that the Jewish people have endured. It also beseeches Hashem to return us to His house, the Beit Hamikdah where we will renew the Temple service once again, light the Menorah, and return G-d’s splendor to the world.

Each paragraph deals with a different Jewish experience in the Diaspora. After the introduction, ”Raot Sava Nafshi” discusses our stay in Egypt for 210years which culminated with Pharoah and his army drowning in the Yam Suf. “Dvir Kadsho” informs of the Babylonian exile where we stayed for 70 years until returning to Jerusalem with Ezra HaSofer (not quoted in the stanza). “Krot Komat” refers to our run in with Achashverosh and Haman in Persia which left Haman and his children (rov Banav) hanging on a tree. ”Yevanim Nikkbetzu” deals with the theme of Chanukah; namely our encounter against the “culture loving” Greeks which developed into both our military victory as well as the miracle of the oil. And finally “Chasof Zroa” calls upon Hashem to literally “Show his Forearm (so to speak)” and finally shlep us out of our current exile that has lasted over 2000 years and bring comfort to the people of Israel through the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

The word “Tzur”, which refers to G-d, is translated as a Rock. The Torah, Talmud, and Siddur refer to Hashem in tens of different ways – but a ROCK???? How can we understand this? The answer is that a rock symbolizes something one can lean on and find support no matter how unstable he or she feels. This is what Hashem is to every single one of us. No matter what predicament we find ourselves in, we have a “Rock” to lean on. In essence this is the message of Chanukah and also the message of Maoz Tzur. No matter what land we are in, no matter who our enemies are the “Rock” is there.

The word Tzur is also found in the prayer of “Ayn Kalokaynu”. The verse reads “Ain Tzur Kaylokaynu” translated, as there is no Rock like our G-d. The Talmud interprets the word Tzur to mean “Creator/Artist” – teaching that there is NO Artist like Hashem. Who else could create the Swiss Alps, Hawaii, and the Grand Canyon?? Who else could create a human being with a soul inside of him?? Only Hashem.

So what is Hashem- A Rock or a Creative Artist? The answer is that he is both! And we should appreciate the paradox involved. Generally a creative artist is perceived as otherworldly, artsy, and exciting…- but not necessarily stable and reliable.

Only G-d himself can be THE MOST CREATIVE ARTIST that ever touched earth, and also be the “ROCK OF AGES” providing strength, concern, and an ever-present address to turn to in prayer.

May we all appreciate this insight as the family stands together in harmony singing Maoz Tzur throughout the holiday of Chanukah.

My best wishes for beautiful Shabbos and a light filled Chanukah.

Rabbi Ephraim Epstein