December 26th, 2005


Ma'oz Tzur

The singing of "Ma'oz Tzur" is a strong Channukah tradition. And it seems to trump people's personal beliefs. Jews who no longer pray for the Messianic redemption or the restoration of the sacrificial service in the Temple sing with great gusto:
Ma'oz, Tsur yeshuatiStrong One, Rock of my salvation
L'cha na'eh l'shabe'achTo you it is fitting to utter praise
Tikon beit t'filiatiRepair the house of my prayer [the Temple]
V'sham todah n'zabe'achand there a Thankgsgiving-sacrifice I will offer.
L'et tachin matbe'achIn the hour when you have prepared the slaughter
Mitzar ham'nabe'achof the enemy, the blasphemer
Az egmor, b'shir mizmor,Then I shall complete, with song and singing
Chanukat hamizbe'achthe dedication of the altar.

The poem "Ma'oz Tzur" then enumerates various incidents when we were deprived of the ability to offer God the sacrifices at the temple, and in each case celebrates our return to it: first the Pesach story, then the exile to Bavel, then the Purim story, and finally we get to Channukah. And this fifth verse is, in my opinion, very beautiful and the only one of the six verses with which every Jew today can agree:

Y'vanim nik'b'tsu alai[Selucid] Greeks gathered against me
azai bimei Chashmanimthen, in the days of the Hasmoneans
Ufar'tsu chomot migdalaiAnd they penetrated the walls of my towers
V'tim'u kawl hash'manimAnd defiled all the oils
Uminotar kankanimAnd from what remained of the flasks
Na'asah nes lashoshanimoccurred a miracle for the roses [Israel]
B'nei vinah y'mei sh'monahPeople of wisdom did "eight days"
kav'u, shir ur'nanimestablish for singing and for joyous songs.

I don't mean to put down the rest of "Ma'oz Tzur", which I think is a beautiful example of piyyut (paraliturgical poetry) and which I personally find inspiring and meaningful as an expression of yearning for the Redemption and the end of our Dispersion. I merely toss out as something to think about: should an individual or a movement of Judaism who disagrees with the words of the first verse of Ma'oz Tzur sing the fifth verse instead?

(A topic for another year: what is the sixth verse doing there anyway?)

Chag sameach!

  • Current Music
    Ma'oz Tzur, Italian traditional melody
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