Channukah and the First Hasidim


Channukah and the First Hasidim
James Scott Trimm

Did you know that the first Hasidim played a very important part in the Chabbukah story?

At this time of the apostasy leading to the Channukah story (175-140 BCE) many who wished to remain true to Torah escaped into the wilderness:

Howbeit many in Israel were fully resolved and confirmed in themselves
not to eat any unclean thing.
Wherefore the rather to die, that they might not be defiled with meats,
and that they might not profane the holy covenant:
so then they died.
And there was very great wrath upon Israel….
Then many that sought after justice and judgment
went down into the wilderness, to dwell there:
(1Macc. 1:62-64; 2:29)

These refugees became know as the Hassidim:

Then came there unto him a company of Hassidim
who were mighty men of Israel,
even all such as were voluntarily devoted unto the law.
(1Macc. 2:42)

Those of the Jews that he called Hassidim,
whose captain is Judas Maccabeus, nourish war and are seditious,
and will not let the rest be in peace.
(2Macc. 14:6)

These Hasidim were led by a certain Antigones of Soko.  The Mishnah says of him:

Antigones of Soko received [Torah] from Simeon the Righteous.
He used to say,
“Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of wages,
but be like servants who serve their master with no thought of a wage –
and let the awe of Heaven be upon you.”
(m.Avot 1:3)

This was the core teaching of the Hasidim, and it became the core teaching of the 18th century restoration of Hasidic Judaism by the Ba’al Shem Tov.

Antigones of Soko’s brightest student was Yose ben Yozer (known also as Yose Qatnuta):

Yose ben Yozer… received it from them.
Yose ben Yozer used to say:
Let your house be a gathering place for sages.
And wallow in the dust of their feet.
And drink in their words with gusto.
(m.Avot 1:4)

Yose Ben Yozer was the last of the Hassidim:

When Rabbi Yose Qatnuta died, the Hasidim passed away.
And why was he called “Qatnuta”?
Because he was least of the Hasidim.
(m.Sotah 9:15)

Yose ben Yozer was said to be among the sixty Hasidim who, at the instigation of the high priest Alcimus, the son of his sister, were crucified by the Syrian general Bacchides in 161 BCE:

Then did there assemble unto Alcimus and Bacchides a company of scribes, to require justice.
Now the Hasidim were the first among the children of Israel that sought peace of them:
For said they, One that is a priest of the seed of Aaron is come with this army, and he will do us no wrong.
So he spake unto them, peaceably, and sware unto them, saying, we will procure the harm neither of you nor your friends.
Whereupon they believed him: howbeit he took of them threescore men, and slew them in one day, according to the words which he wrote,
(1Macc. 7:12-16)

The Midrash Rabba reports the following dialogue between Alcimus and Yose ben Yozer while he was on the way to execution:

Alcimus: “See the profit and honors that have fallen to my lot in consequence of what I have done, while you, for your obstinacy, have the misfortune to die as a criminal.”

Yose, quietly: “if such is the lot of those who anger Elohim, what shall be the lot of those who accomplish His will?”

Alcimus: “Is there any one who accomplished His will more than thou?”

Yose: “If this is the end of those who accomplish His will, what awaits those who anger Him?”

On this Alcimus was seized with remorse and committed suicide.
(Genesis Rabba 1:65)

Rebbe Zalman laid out the intellectual basis of the teaching of Hasidism in the 18th century in a book called the Tanya, which became the foundation for the Hasidic movement known as Chabad.

The Tanya teaches that each Jew actually has two souls (from the perspective of the Tanya a “Jew” is a believer, just as in a Christian book the term “Christian” would refer to a believer),  One soul is the animal soul, which has only selfish motives, while the higher soul is a divine soul, and is actually a spark of Elohim Himself.

The animal soul tends to give heed to the evil inclination, while the divine soul tends to give heed to the good inclination.

The Tanya teaches that our goal is to reach a point where we are guided by the divine soul and do not give heed to the animal soul at all.

Moreover the Tanya teaches that if our motive in keeping Torah is at all selfish, such as a desire to earn something, or a desire to avoid a punishment, then ultimately that act is rooted in our animal soul and is not from a pure motive.  Instead our Torah observance should be rooted in our divine soul, and be motivated only by a natural inclination to observe Torah simply from a love for and an awe of Elohim.

It is for this reason that the book of Maccabees says that the Hassidim “were voluntarily devoted unto the law” because their Torah observance was of their own free will, and not motivated by any inducement.

And this is the meaning of Antigones of Soko’s words:

“Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of wages,
but be like servants who serve their master with no thought of a wage –
and let the awe of Heaven be upon you.”
(m.Avot 1:3)

Now there are actually four books of the Maccabees and these are each written on each of the four levels of understanding known as PaRDeS.  PaRDeS is the Hebrew word for “paradise” and is an acronym (notarikon) for the words Pashat (literal); Remez (implied); Drash (allegorical or homiletical) and Sod (Hidden, Secret, Mystical).

The First Book of Maccabees gives the plain literal version of the story (Pashat).

The Second Book of Maccabees is written on the Remez level, giving the details only implied by the first book.

The Third Book of Maacabees is written on the Homiletical/Allegorical (Drash) level.  This book actually has nothing to do with the Maccabees, but tells a story with a similar theme about another attempt to destroy the Jews that took place about fifty years earlier in Egypt.

But it is the Fourth Book of Maccabees that I want to discuss here.  The Fourth Book is written on the Sod level, and it deals with the same general subject as the Tanya.

The Tanya teaches that by programming our minds with Torah, the intellect of a man’s divine soul allows him to subdue the seven emotions of his animal soul, allowing him to follow Elohim with a pure motive, set free from the selfish motives of his animal soul:

For when the intellect in the rational soul deeply contemplates and immerses itself exceedingly in the greatness of G-d, how He fills all worlds and encompasses all worlds, and in the presence of Whom everything is considered as nothing— there will be born and aroused in his mind and thought the emotion of awe for the Divine Majesty, to fear and be humble before His blessed greatness, which is without end or limit, and to have the dread of G-d in his heart. Next, his heart will glow with an intense love, like burning coals, with a passion, desire and longing, and a yearning soul, towards the greatness of the blessed En Sof. This constitutes the culminating passion of the soul, of which Scripture speaks, as “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth,.. .” and “My soul thirsteth for G-d,…” and “My soul thirsteth for Thee….” This thirst is derived from the element of Fire, which is found in the divine soul. As students of natural science affirm, and so it is in Etz Chayim, the element of Fire is in the heart, whilst the source of [the element of] Water and moisture is in the brain, which is explained in Etz Chayim, Portal 50, to refer to the faculty of chochmah, called “The water of the divine soul.” The rest of the middot are all offshoots of fear and love and their derivations, as is explained elsewhere.
Similarly is it with the human soul, which is divided in two— sechel (intellect) and middot (emotional attributes). The intellect includes chochmah, binah and da at (ChaBaD), whilst the middot are love of G-d, dread and awe of Him, glorification of Him, and so forth. ChaBaD [the intellectual faculties] are called “mothers” and source of the middot, for the latter are “offspring” of the former.

The explanation of the matter is as follows:

The intellect of the rational soul, which is the faculty that conceives any thing, is given the appellation of chochmah—כ”ח מ”ה— the “potentiality” of “what is.” When one brings forth this power from the potential into the actual, that is, when [a person] cogitates with his intellect in order to understand a thing truly and profoundly as it evolves from the concept which he has conceived in his intellect, this is called binah. These [chochmah and binah] are the very “father” and “mother” which give birth to love of G-d, and awe and dread of Him.
(Tanya; Likutei Amarim; Chapter 3)(Tanya; Likutei Amarim; Chapter 3)

This is also the message of the Fourth Book of Maccabees.  The Fourth Book tells us how many of the martyrs from the Hasidim of the Channukah story were able to endure their tortures and resist the temptation to recant their testimony even in the face of the most torturous deaths.  According to this book, the Torah our minds allows our mind to have sovereignty over the seven emotions.

1:1 The word of philosophy that I am about to discuss before you:
If the true mind of shalom (peace) is sovereign to the fear of Elohim. I am an upright adviser to you, that you should pay earnest attention in philosophy.
1:2 For it is also necessary for all men to suffer, more especially these are steps to virtue.
1:3 For I bear a good report:
If the mind of balance is over the emotions that stand against temperance, showing that the mind of virtue rules over gluttony [and] over lust.
1:4 And it is not only over the walk, but also over the other emotions that hinder righteousness. It is shown to be sovereign, over fornication [and] evil and over other emotions that impede courage, over rage, and that a man be not soft before tribulation, and over fear.

1:13 The question therefore is this: If the mind is sovereign over emotion.
1:14 But you may ask: What is the mind? And what is emotion? And what are the kinds of emotion? And is the mind sovereign over all of them?
1:15 The mind therefore is thus: That in uprightness we choose the life of wisdom.
1:16 Now wisdom is knowledge of the hosts, of the Godhead, and of manhood and of their effects.
1:17 Now this is the discipline that is in the Torah, that through it also you learn of the Godhead greatly and of manhood to our advantage and obtaining favor.
1:18 Now the forms of wisdom are these: prudence, righteousness, [courage] and temperance.
1:19 Now the head of all of them is prudence because through it the mind rules over all emotions.

1:30 For reasoning is the leader of the virtues, but it is the sole ruler of the passions. Observe then first, through the very things which stand in the way of temperance, that reasoning is absolute ruler of the passions.
1:31 Now temperance consists of a command over the lusts.
1:32 But of the lusts, some belong to the soul, others to the body: and over each of these classes the reasoning appears to bear sway.
(4Macc. 1:4, 13-19, 30-32 HRV)

20 Of the passions, pleasure and pain are the two most comprehensive; and they also by nature refer to the soul.
21 And there are many attendant affections surrounding pleasure and pain.
22 Before pleasure is lust; and after pleasure, joy.
23 And before pain is fear; and after pain is sorrow.
24 Wrath is an affection, common to pleasure and to pain, if any one will pay attention when it comes upon him.
25 And there exists in pleasure a malicious disposition, which is the most multiform of all the affections.
26 In the soul it is arrogance, and love of money, and vain gloriousness, and contention, and faithlessness, and the evil eye .
27 In the body it is greediness and gormandizing, and solitary gluttony.
(4Macc. 1:20-27 HRV)

Let us learn to be like the Hasidim of the Channukah story.  Let us internalize the Torah in the wisdom, understanding and knowledge of our divine soul, and overcome the selfish motives of our animal soul.  Let us observe the Torah not as one seeking a reward, or wanting to avoid punishment, but from a natural inclination from the pure motive to serve Elohim.  If we do this, when tribulation comes, we may be able to endure the suffering and emotions of our animal soul and follow Elohim with the pure motives of our divine soul.


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