One of the great miracles we recently commemorated on Chanukah is the victory the Jews had over the Greeks. The Greeks severely oppressed the Jewish nation, especially in outlawing the practice of religion, as they banned the practice of various Mitzvos (Torah commandments) and punished those who defied the ban. Eventually, a group of Jews known as the Maccabees, decided they must wage war against the Greeks, and stand up for the Torah. The astounding question is: How in the world did the Maccabees go to war against the Greeks? The Maccabees were very few, and went, untrained, with primitive warfare, against multitudes of professional warriors with advanced weaponry. How did they even think there was any chance that they could emerge alive and win?
This question was raised by none other than the Maccabees themselves (see Book of Maccabees). The Maccabees turned to their captain Judah and said, “How can we, who are so few, fight this strong army advancing toward us? We are also tired and did not eat today.” Judah answered them, “The multitudes can easily be given into the hands of the few, and there is nothing standing in the way of Heaven to bring salvation to the many or the few. It is not with a mighty force that one wins a war, but rather strength comes from Heaven.” This was not merely a speech to boost their morale; their faith was the force with which they defeated the enemy. When they went to combat, they were reciting Psalm 91, known as “Shir Shel P’ga’im” (The Song of Assaults), and this is how they won (see Magen Avrohom, Orach Chaim, Siman 295). This psalm describes how God will send angels to provide special protection from all assaults to the one who puts his complete faith in God, no matter what the circumstances are.
This concept is reiterated by the Nefesh Hachaim (3:12) as practical advice, and he says: “And this is truly a great concept and an incredible tactic, to remove from himself and to nullify, all the orders and desires of others, so that they should not be able to control him or affect him in any way. When a person fortifies his heart with the knowledge that God is the true source of power, and there is no other source of power which exists in the world and in any spheres whatsoever, and everything consists of only His single existence… and he doesn’t care for any other power or desire in the world, and he submits and clings his thoughts purely to the Single Master, Blessed is He, so will God cause that naturally all powers and desires [of others] in the world will become removed from him so that none will be able to affect him at all.”
When World War II broke out and the Germans invaded Poland, Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveichik was in Warsaw and wanted to escape to Vilna, Lithuania, which was still neutral at the time. The problem was that the roads were full of Nazis who would brutally kill any Jew they caught. He found other Jews who were also headed to Vilna, and they hired a wagon to take them. In order to travel undetected, they were covered with a thick cloth in the back, while clean shaven passengers who posed as gentiles sat openly in the front. On the way, they came to Ostrov, but the driver got lost and could not find the way out of the city. The wagon wandered through the streets swarming with German soldiers until the driver spotted a woman and asked for directions. The woman started screaming at them, “What’s with you people!? There is a lockdown now and the Germans said they will shoot anyone found in the streets!” She directed them to the town’s exit, and they managed to flee unharmed. As they got close to the border they had to continue on foot. As they crossed the border, a German soldier stopped Rabbi Soloveichik and started shouting at him, “Where are the weapons and the money you are hiding?” The soldier then searched his clothing, and let him go when he didn’t find anything. This was an extremely rare move for a German soldier, as German soldiers never let a Jew off scot-free.
Rabbi Soloveichik later related how the entire journey he was completely focused on how only God has the true power in the world, like the Nefesh Hachaim dictates, and that’s why most of the trip passed without incident. Only in the end did his mind get distracted, and that’s when the Nazi stopped him. He quickly resumed his focus, and that is how he was released, intact.
This is how the Maccabees fought their battles, and we, too, can utilize this method of defense when we feel threatened. At a time when we are in danger, it is hard to start focusing on this idea; the key is to practice beforehand. If we start focusing on this concept before we enter a stressful situation; or even better, if we imagine being in a hard situation and focus on this idea, we will be much better equipped to defend ourselves from any harm threatening us in life.
email@example.com by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber