2017 — what a year for women! Well, maybe not all women (sorry Hillary), but it was definitely a year of breaking the cliché fairy tale storyline and of redefining the character of a “leading” lady. Between Israel’s very own Gal Gadot bringing powerful women to the forefront in Wonder Woman and Time Magazine recently honoring multiple courageous woman as their “Person(s) of 2017,” the opportunity to shed that same light on women during Hanukkah cannot be missed.
We all know how the storylines of famous fairytales go. The tiaras, the dresses, the knight in shining armor are simply the accessories we put on to better portray the characters acting out the “princess is saved by a noble prince” tale. It’s the basic recipe to a happy ending, a plot that will have girls on the edge of their seats, waiting breathlessly for the story’s finale. Inevitably relieved, they sigh, “Well thank God the glass slipper fit because without the prince, she would be doomed, and this story would be terrible.”
However, the Jewish women of our heritage have always contradicted that storyline by cutting the helplessness and dependency act out of the script. Esther and Ruth, just to name two, were truly wonder-women who needed nothing more than their faith in God as their sword and shield. They had the courage to not only be their own hero but also to save those around them.
In this holiday’s narrative, the Maccabees, a small group of champions that defeated the Greeks, have the spotlight; the story of the ‘Hanukkah Heroine’ Judith is often over-shadowed. The reason for this is partly due to the fact that the Hebrew text for the story was lost ages ago, leaving nothing but the greek translation behind. Our ancestors passed down what they could orally, which has left us with many different versions of the Judith story. While some versions say it occurred earlier, many say she acted during the time of the Maccabean revolt, which is why her tale is traditionally recounted during this time of year:
In the land of Judea far away, an enemy general besieged the Jews. Famous for their faith, these Jews prayed for salvation — little did they know, they would be saved through a beautiful woman, Judith. God fearing and strong, she proposed to the High Priest that she go into the enemies quarters and try out a plan she had to stop the madness.
Hesitantly, the priest agreed. Soon, Judith and her maid were asking to speak to the lead general. Telling him what he wanted to hear, the brilliant woman appealed to him in every way and got him to believe that she was on his side. When she next visited, Judith brought along cheese and wine — while he thought it was a toast to the destruction of the Jews, it was really a bold stroke of Judith’s plan.
As he feasted on the cheese and washed it down with her wine, he began to feel drowsy and soon passed out. With God in her heart and the remembrance of a past Jewish heroine, Yael’s, similarly bold actions, Judith reached for the general’s sword, and, as planned, chopped, off his head. Judith and her maid fled at once, returning to the village with the general’s head in their hands.
Commentaries such as Rashi claim that the death of this general contributed directly to the Maccabees’ military victory. To re-live her courage, woman are included in the time-bound obligation of lighting Chanukah candles, they customarily eat cheesy foods and they spend the 30 minutes after candle lighting relaxing.
So this Hanukkah, help end this “Woman’s Year” off on a powerful note by sharing the story of the Hanukkah Heroine. And remember, when a woman combines her unique God given blessings and strengths with her faith, she has the power to free herself from the tower, slay her own dragon and live happily ever after.