1 Maccabees 2:1
A small group of Jews returns to Jerusalem from Babylon, in a movement later termed “the return to Zion” (circa 500 BC). This community experiences consistent growth and is able to successfully preserve its Jewish identity under periods of Persian, Greek, and Egyptian rule.
In the decades following Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Near East (circa 332 BC), the Land of Israel falls under the Hellenistic rule of the Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires. Jews enjoy full religious liberties throughout this era.
Antiochus III, ruler of the Seleucid Empire, conquers the Land of Israel in 200 BC. Following Antiochus III’s rule, his son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, tries to not only solidify his own political power, but also impose Hellenistic values on his subjects. The new emperor dismisses the high priest and offers the vacant position to his supporter, Jason-in exchange for a “price”. The new religious leader decides to model Jerusalem against the cities of Greece. Jason’s successor, Menelaus, is an even more fanatical Hellenist. He introduces idolatrous practices to the Temple and loots its treasures. The Second Temple in Jerusalem – built by the Jews who had returned following the Babylonian exile – is at this time far more modest than the First Temple had been, and will remain so until King Herod carries out renovations decades later. The Temple complex is the paramount religious center in the Land of Israel.
Mattathias, a priest of the Hasmonean lineage, lives in Modi’in, a town near Jerusalem. In 167 BC, royal emissaries arrive in this area in order to enforce prohibitions against central Jewish religious practices. Mattathias and his five sons, unable to withstand their sacrilege, kill them.
The candle illuminating the Hasmoneans’ hearts is akin to the candle in the Temple that illuminates their way on the difficult path to freedom – the passion enabling their persistence and dedication. Mattathias and his followers’ actions represent devotion and steadfastness in the face of powerful opposing forces – including both the ruling empire and their own people. Mattathias is ready and willing to sacrifice all that is dearest to him for the sake of a noble cause.
“In those days Mattathias son of John son of Simeon, a priest of the clan of Joarib, moved from Jerusalem and settled in Modein. 2 He had five sons: John surnamed Gaddi, 3 Simon called Thassi, 4 Judas called Maccabeus, 5 Eleazar called Avaran, and Jonathan called Apphus. 6 He saw the blasphemies being committed in Judah and Jerusalem 7 and said, “Alas! Why was I born to see this, the ruin of my people, the ruin of the holy city? The people sat idle there when it was given over to the enemy, the sanctuary given over to strangers. 8 Her temple has become like a person without honor 9 her glorious vessels have been carried into exile. Her infants have been killed in her streets, her youths by the sword of the foe. 10 What nation has not inherited her palacesand has not seized her spoils? 11 All her adornment has been taken away; no longer free, she has become a slave” (1 Maccabees 2:1-14)
Devotion combines self-discovery with love; as we discover our life’s purpose, we devote ourselves to others and to our cause.