“Maoz tzur yeshuati…” rings a song chanted the world over following the kindling of the Hanukkah lights, best known in its translation, “Rock of Ages.” Though it wasn’t my family’s custom to sing this seven-paragraph tribute to Jewish resistance overcoming oppression, I was somewhat familiar with not only the famous first verse, but also with the second-to-last. That penultimate verse is a tribute to opposing the Hellenist oppression featured in the Hanukkah story. It includes a phrase that’s been put to countless Hasidic tunes, and always leaves me jumping with joy inside.
“Yevanim nikbetzu alay,” it begins. “The Hellenists gathered against me, in the days of the Hasmoneans.”
Then the language does more than I could ever describe, so let’s go on a journey through the Hebrew:
“Upartzu chomot migdalay“—“and they breached the walls of my towers”/
“V’timu kol hashmanim“—“and defiled all of the oil.”