Of the many laws pertaining to lighting the Menorah during Chanukah, one rule tends to stick out more than others. It is the law that during the entire time that the candles are burning, Jewish women may not do any chores, household or otherwise.
The little-known story behind this law is an essential part of the greater story of Chanukah. It underlines the bravery of one woman, whose heroic acts should be a model for us, as well.
During the Syrian Greeks’ siege on the Land of Israel, a Greek general by the name of Holofernes demanded that before any Jewish woman marries, she must spend one night with him. One can imagine the distraught atmosphere this caused among the Jews, and the reluctance of many Jewish women to enter the covenant of marriage.
One woman, the beautiful Yehudit, daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, realizing that the continuity of the Jewish nation was in jeopardy, decided to put an end to this horrible decree. On the evening preceding her own wedding, she packed a bag with cheese and strong wine, and approached the general’s campsite. She was escorted to the general’s tent and told him that she has a gift for him. She produced the cheese and he began to devour it. After satisfying himself with the cheese, he became extremely thirsty. Yehudit then gave him the wine to quench his thirst. All it took was a few shots of the strong wine and Holofernes fell into a deep stupor.
In the silence of the night, Yehudit beheaded the general with his own sword, and placed his head in her bag. She quickly left the Greek campsite and went directly to the Jewish army’s camp. She excitedly recounted what had just happened, and suggested that now was the time for the Jews to attack the enemy preemptively.
When they saw what her bag contained, it boosted their morale and gave them the strength to continue battling the Greeks. The army immediately regrouped and attacked the camp that Yehudit had just come from. As the Greek soldiers saw that they were being attacked they ran to their general’s tent to get instruction on warding off the attack, only to find his headless body lying on the bed. The Greeks scattered at the site of their fallen general, thus giving the Jews an easy victory. This victory, and the Jews’ triumph in many other battles, eventually led to the Jews regaining control of their land.
The heroic bravery that Yehudit showed is something that we can all learn from. She did not worry for her own safety and well-being. Instead she took the initiative and saved the Jewish people from a lurking danger. Her courage, and that of many brave Jewish men and women throughout our history, is evidence of our ability to persevere and survive, even in the hardest of times.
With the faith that G-d is on our side, regardless of who the enemy may be, we will always be victorious.