Megillas Ta’anis

Chazal write that Adar, gifted with the beneficent mazal of dagim (fish), is a season of good fortune for Yisroel. This sparks an obvious question.

Would this indicate that Adar is a golden month when good things happen to the Jews, when the sun of Jewish history shines brightest and historical highpoints cluster like bees round a honey pot? A preliminary investigation of this question proves inconclusive, since, on a superficial level, history timelines spread the good times uniformly throughout the calendar.

Nonetheless, a deeper analysis of this concept may yet strike gold, especially since a certain ancient document indicates that our “golden month” thesis holds more than a grain of truth.

THE FIRST WRITING OF THE ORAL TORAH

Can you imagine Chazal setting aside a special day in the middle of Adar to commemorate Jewish victories over Greece? Would this not seem pointless since Chanukah seems more than adequate for the purpose? Nonetheless, there was a time when Jews commemorated the victory over Greece not only once a year during Chanukah, but also on the 28th of Teves and the 13th of Adar. For hundreds of years Purim was flanked by two minor “Chanukahs.”

These two “Chanukahs” and 34 other special occasions are listed in Megillas Taanis, which, according to the Radal (Rav Dovid Luria, intr. to Pirkei d’R. Eliezer) is the most ancient halachic document in existence, dating back to before the writing of the Mishnah and Gemara. As Rashi (Eruvin 62b) says, “No halacha was written in their days, even one letter, except for Megillas Taanis.”

Therefore, when you hold a Megillas Taanis in your hands, you are grasping the oldest halachic text ever committed to writing, inscribed at a time when Jews were forbidden to write even one word of the Oral Torah. The Hilchos Gedolos (hilchos Sofrim) writes that it was inscribed in the time of the Churban Habayis:  “The  elders  of  Beis  Shamai and Beis Hillel wrote Megillas Taanis in the attic of Chananya ben Chizkiya ben Garon when they went up to visit him.” This begs the question that if it was forbidden to write even one halacha in those  days,  why  did  Chazal  make  an exception in the case of Megillas Taanis, which  lists  not  only  one  halacha,  but 36  halachos?  And  the  same  question applies to Pirkei d’R. Eliezer, the second halachic document committed to writing. The  answer  to  this  problem  is  beyond the scope of this article and will need to be addressed on another occasion.

As mentioned earlier, Megillas Taanis is a list of 36 occasions starting with Sinai (Pesach Sheni) and ending in the years of Roman oppression about 200 years after the Churban, during which Jews observed two basic rules – to not fast on any of these occasions, and to not deliver eulogies on fourteen of them.

Now, glancing through these 36 special occasions it seems that they conform to Chazal’s rule that Adar is a month of good tidings, since unlike other months that have a maximum of four special occasions (sometimes including more than one day), Adar boasts eight special occasions on which one is forbidden to fast.

The eight special occasions include the following:

(1) The 8th and 9th are days when Hashem answered prayers for rain during years of drought. (2) On the 12th, the Roman general Trajan was killed as punishment for executing the righteous brothers Papus and Ludicus. (3) The 13th is the day when the Jews defeated the Greek general Nikanor. (4) The 14th and 15th are Purim. (5) On the 16th, the Jews were permitted to rebuild the walls of Yerushalayim after local non-Jews foiled their earlier attempts. (6) On the 17th, a handful of sages survived King Yanai’s slaughter of all the talmidei chochomim in Eretz Yisroel. (7) The 20th of Adar marks the day when Hashem answered Choni Hame’agel’s plea for rain. (8) The 28th commemorates the first recorded public demonstration in Jewish history that the sages organized in order to annul an anti-religious Roman decree.

We see that at least in those days, the positive historical record slanted sharply in favor of Adar.

DISUNITY

Let’s return to our original question: why did Chazal designate three occasions to celebrate the victory over the Greeks instead of designating one day to celebrate the final victory?

Unlike Purim when the Jews destroyed their enemies in one or two days, the Chanukah war dragged on for years and each victory was only the prelude to more battles. There was a major reason for this disparity, which we can find in their different modes of celebration.

In contrast to Purim when we make a point of demonstrating unity by distributing gifts to friends and feasting with family and friends, Chanukah is an individual-oriented festival more centered on each individual’s home. For example, in contrast to the pirsum neis of Purim, which we accomplish by reading the Megilla in a giant crowd, the pirsum neis of Chanukah is an intensely personal affair, each person disseminating the light of the miracle from the door or window of his private home.

One reason for this is that unlike Purim when Jews united to fight their enemies, Chanukah was the epitome of disunity when brother fought brother and father fought son. On Chanukah, Jews fought not only the enemy without but also the enemy within, battling their own Jewish brothers who had transformed into Misyavnim and yearned to create a terrible hybridization of Torah and Greek culture. These Hellenists were more Greek than the Greek and a root cause of the Greeks decrees against Torah study and observance.

Consequentially, Purim celebrates Jewish unity while Chanukah celebrates the power of the individual to withstand public pressure. On Chanukah, the light of the menorah reaching from private homes into dark streets and alleys teaches that if the individual buttresses his home from outside evil, the light of Torah will eventually transform society from within.

Due to this lack of unity and other factors, the capture of Yerushalayim and the Bais Hamikdash by no means signified the end of the Jews’ troubles. All they had under their control was Yerushalayim and its environs. Battles still needed to be waged to gain control of the Galil, Transjordan, the south, and along the coast, and even after these battles were won, Jewish Hellenists in Yerushalayim called on the Greeks to force the city back under Greek hegemony, generating two giant battles that took place close to Adar.

In the first of these two battles, Lysias, the Greek ruler of Syria, promptly arrived with a massive army of 100,000 soldiers, 20,000 cavalry, and a number of elephants, and was only stopped from capturing Yerushalayim by a miracle. In the middle of the siege, Lysias received a message that his rival, Phillip, was trying to seize control of Syriain his absence and rushed back to regain the initiative. In consequence, Antiochus V (the son of the famous Antiochus IV of Chanukah) struck a peace treaty with the Jews and this day of victory, the 28th of Teves, was commemorated in Megillas Taanis as a day when one may not fast.

THE ADAR MIRACLE

Unfortunately, the Jewish treaty with Antiochus V had a giant flaw since both he and his father, Antiochus IV, were not the authentic kings of Greece. All this while, the real king of Greece, Demetrius, was languishing as a hostage in Rome. Three years after the Chanukah miracle, Demetrius escaped from Rome and the peace treaty struck between the Jews and Antiochus V was rendered null and void!

To make things worse, the current Kohein Gadol, Alcimus, was head of the Hellenizers. He sent a message to Demetrius urging him to attack Yerushalayim and put an end to Chashmonai rule. The Greek general, Nikanor, arrived north of Yerushalayim with 35,000 troops to battle against Yehuda HaMaccabi’s paltry force of 3,000 Jews. Yehuda HaMaccabi’s only option was to plead for heavenly assistance, and plead he did, begging that just as Hashem had sent an angel to destroy Sancheriv’s huge army in the days of King Chizkiyahu, so he should now send an angel to strike the Greek troops with fear and panic.

Once again, the Jews were saved by a miracle. They succeeded in killing Nikanor in their first attack, causing the Greeks to panic and flee. Megillas Taanis records this miracle as occurring on the 13th of Adar.

ANNULMENT OF MEGILLAS TAANIS

Why do we no longer observe most of the special occasions of Megillas Taanis? At the end of Megillas Taanis,

Chazal explain that these pinpoints of light drowned in the maelstrom of history. As Jewish suffering increased, the Jews no longer appreciated these days of deliverance to such an extent and their observance was annulled:

“The group of Rabbi Eliezer ben Chananya… wrote Megillas Taanis because they were not habituated to sufferings and sufferings did not constantly befall them. However, in our time when people are habituated to suffering and sufferings befall them [constantly], if all the seas were ink and all the forests pens and all men scribes, they could not manage to write all the troubles that befall them and the salvation done for them [and therefore we no longer observe these days]. Another explanation: A madman is not hurt [by sufferings] and the flesh of a corpse does not feel a knife.”

Despite the annulment of Megillas Taanis, the Raavad (cited by Ran Taanis 7a on the Rif) asks a very relevant question: How can we fast on the 13th of Adar when Megillas Taanis expressly forbids this due to it being Yom Nikanor? Even if Megillas Taanis was annulled, surely it should be forbidden lechatchilla to institute a public fast on this joyous day.

The Raavad justifies our custom by explaining that Taanis Esther is not in commemoration of tragedy but on the contrary, in memory of the Jews’ miraculous battle against their enemies, and such a fast does not contradict the joy of the Day of Nikanor.

This is the power of Adar to transform light into darkness and gloom into joy — even its fast day is imbued with an ambiance of celebration and joy.

(Source    of    Chanukah    material: History of the Jewish People. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 1969.)

 

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