Antiyochus’ Dream Of A New Middle East!
By Nechami Kreisman

Antiyochus, king of Greco-Syria, sent his men to Eretz Yisroel. He knew that every great ruler had to conquer Eretz Yisroel and Yerushalayim for his kingdom to be complete. Antiyochus’ dream was of a new Middle East!

We generally find ourselves in a race against time. Time flies and we run, trying to keep up, to stay by its side coastally. To stop it is impossible.

Sometimes I manage to catch a moment, and it’s mine. Or perhaps it’s the moment that has caught me, removed me from the usual trivial, limited pattern of life, grabbed me tight – and I belong to it?

Within a moment one can skip to other points in time. When the past, present, and future are blurred together, we find ourselves in the eternal present. At one such rare moment of the eternal present, I stood at the window and saw the sun slowly setting behind the mountains. In those mountains, between the hills and in the valleys, I saw riders galloping on horses, soldiers dressed for battle carrying shields, armed with swords and spears, charging forward in the thousands and tens of thousands.

Antiyochus, king of greater Syria and Greece, sent his legions to the Holy Land, for every great ruler knew that his kingdom would not be complete until he conquered Eretz Yisroel and Yerushalayim. Antiyochus envisioned a new Middle East, a Middle East without the Jewish nation and without the Jewish people, ch’v.

* * *

Perhaps the Chanuka story we heard in grade school left us with the impression that the events which culminated in the Chanuka miracle took place in a brief span of time, something like one day to the next. Antiyochus issued his decrees, the Jews refused to abide by them, the Chashmonaim went to war, there were skirmishes in the mountains, and voila – we won.

Maybe the reason we were left with that impression is because when we heard the story for the first time as children we still lived in a world that is beyond time. Today, tomorrow, and yesterday were confusing, concepts which tried to postpone the fulfillment of our immediate wishes. Indeed, for children there is only the reality of the moment – now. We imagined an immediate victory then, and that is how the miracle of Chanuka has remained in our mind ever since.

The historical truth, however, testifies that Antiyochus’ oppression lasted for a long time, several years, in fact. The Jews suffered. Life in those days was no simple matter. However, as long as they had freedom to observe Torah and mitzvos, the Jewish people kept quiet. It was only when sacred, religious values were in danger that they mustered the strength and went to war.

At that time, there lived a Jewish woman, who at first glance seemed to be somewhat removed from the events taking place around her. Yehudis, the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, was a widow for three and a half years. She was wise and beautiful and lacked nothing, as her husband had left her gold and silver, sheep, cattle, fields, slaves and maids to supervise his busy operation and his tremendous wealth. Yehudis was the supervisor, and spent most of her time in prayer and doing chesed.

She asked for nothing for herself. She fasted on the weekdays and ate only on Shabbos and holidays. She left her beautiful clothing in the closet and was satisfied with simple clothes. Years passed like this, with Yehudis removed from worldly matters. Any knowledge she had of what was happening in the world outside of her little circle came from her servants and maids. In fact, that is how she heard about the arrival of General Holopurnus with his vast army, chariots and weapons, who had come to conquer Eretz Yisroel and Yerushalayim after other nations in their midst had surrendered to him.

The Jews heard about Holopurnus’ conquest, and they trembled. Wherever he went, destruction and death followed. He especially vented his wrath on the sacred sites of the countries he conquered. The Jewish people knew that if Holopurnus managed to carry out his plans and penetrate Yerushalayim, the Beis HaMikdash would be his main target. He would contaminate the sacred vessels, sacrifice forbidden offerings upon the altar, and desecrate the Temple. His forces had to be stopped at all costs.

The High Priest convened an emergency meeting of all the elders, and they resolved to send letters to all Jewish cities with an order as follows: It was forbidden for them to throw up their hands in defeat! They had to do all they could to prevent the enemy from entering the Jewish cities.

They even offered a strategy: people should organize and establish settlements in the mountains, because they were the key areas guarding the dense population in the center of the country. Their goal was to appoint people to watch over the entrances and paths through the mountains and to stand up to the enemy who sought to get through.

These were the efforts made al pi derech ha’teva (by natural means). However, the true strength of the Jewish people is in their prayers. The people cried out, davened to Hashem, and decreed a fast. The Kohanim performed the service in the Mikdash and brought sacrifices while wearing sackcloth and ashes, and they prayed for salvation.

All the countries in the area had succumbed to Holopurnus, and now he sent his infantry divisions to Eretz Yisroel. He was convinced that he would easily succeed, and was sure he wouldn’t have to deal with significant opposition, yet he was in for an unpleasant surprise. His men returned with shocking information: the Jewish people were not going to submit. On the contrary, they were considering war. The paths through the mountains were blocked; mountaintops were fortified with soldiers on guard, watching to ensure that nobody slipped through the valleys beneath them. They had even set up traps on the plains. Holopurnus was furious. Who were these people that dared to oppose him? He had to find out additional information about this mysterious nation.

Holopurnus called the leaders of Moav, Amon, and all the nations of the sea who had already surrendered to him and interrogated them thoroughly. "Tell me," he insisted, "who is this nation that dwells on yonder mountain that dares to oppose me? How many cities does it have and how big is its army? What weapons do they use and what is their strength? Who is their king and who is their general?"

Achyor, the ruler of Amon, said, "If you please, my lord, I will tell you the history of the Jewish people since they became a nation."

"This nation has always been exceptional and different than all the nations around them, since the time of Abraham their forefather. Abraham turned his back on his ancestor’s faith and chose to believe in the one G-d. Thanks to their faith, they managed to vanquish Egypt, to kill the Emori and the people of Cheshbon, and to conquer the land of the seven nations.

"Now, my master, here’s what I suggest. If this nation sins, you will be victorious over them, but if they remain loyal to their G-d and His Torah, you’ll have to give up this plan. Their G-d will certainly protect them, and you will be humiliated."

Achyor had barely finished speaking when all of Holopurnus’ ministers and friends fell upon him angrily. "How dare you say that?! You are a collaborator and you deserve to die!" declared his ministers. "Let us rise up against them, my master, and your valiant soldiers will win and destroy them."

These flattering words swelled Holopurnus’ ego. "Are you a prophet, Achyor?" he said. "You claim it does not pay to fight Israel and that G-d would protect them. I say no! Their G-d will not prevail! Achyor, I don’t want to see you again! Soldiers, take this man and bring him to the frontline. You will wait with them until I enter their land. When I destroy them, I will personally take revenge on you."

Holopurnus’ men immediately carried out his orders. They bound Achyor and carried him outside the camp. They brought him to the valley and began moving toward the city gates. The city guards rained arrows and stones upon them, and the soldiers had to leave their prisoner and run for their lives. The Jewish guards brought Achyor to Uziyahu, the mayor, and he told his story.

The Jewish people realized that the situation was heating up and immediately convened an emergency meeting of the city elders and davened throughout the night.

One day, the heads of the nations that Holopurnus had already conquered came before him with an enticing suggestion. "You are a practical man. The Jewish people do not rely on weapons. They rely on their strategic location, guarding the mountains tops, where they dwell, for it is hard to get there. Don’t wage an ordinary war against them. Listen to us. Block their water sources, which come from the valley outside the city. Let us besiege the city. All you will have to do is sit with your men in the camp and be patient. Within a short time, their water supply will be used up and people will suffer from thirst. Then they will surely surrender the city."

Holopurnus liked the idea and carried it out at once. Everything went according to plan. The water was swiftly depleted and the Jews could not obtain fresh water. After a few days, people began passing out in the streets. Soldiers could barely stand on their feet. The situation was critical and there seemed no hope for improvement.


One day, as Yehudis sat at home, she heard noise from the direction of the market square. People had gathered en masse and were complaining to Uziyahu and the city elders, saying: "It’s your fault we’ve reached this point! Instead of acting like the other nations, you declared war on Holopurnus. Why didn’t you submit to him immediately? Why didn’t you give him the land? Pikuach nefesh (danger to life) supersedes land! Now, because of you, we will die of thirst!"

The people’s representative had an idea. "Let us send an emissary to Holopurnus and tell him that we are ready to sit down at the bargaining table and begin talks about the terms of our surrender."

A representative of a certain party dared to add, "As a display of goodwill and to prove our readiness to make far-reaching concessions, let us not insist on a round table. Let’s sit at a regular table and let Holopurnus sit at the head and lead the political discussions."

Uziyahu understood the people, but he didn’t want to make such a crucial decision hastily. "Be strong, my brothers, and wait another five days," he begged them. "Let us pray to Hashem and hope He will save us from the cruel enemy. If after five days we have not been saved, I will do as you say."

The weary men dispersed, and Yehudis sent her maid to call Uziyahu and the city elders. "I heard what you said to the city elders," she said, "and it isn’t right to talk like that! Are you putting Hashem to the test? Hashem is the One who will decide how and when to save us. As for us, Heaven forefend that we give ourselves up to the enemy willingly! We know that we are not guilty of the sin of idol worship. We have no god other than Hashem Himself. Let us continue to be loyal to Him and to hope for His salvation."

"You are right," sighed Uziyahu, the practical right-winger, "but the people are thirsty and it’s hard for them to listen to the voice of reason. Pray, Yehudis, to Hashem. Perhaps He will have mercy on us and give us rain."

"We will all pray," said Yehudis firmly. "At the same time, I have a plan. Tonight I will go out of the city, accompanied by my maid, and I will meet with Holopurnus."

Uziyahu and the elders were stunned. Yehudis, who was known for her modestly and piety, and was practically a recluse for the past three years, would take on such a role?! They tried to dissuade her, but her mind was made up. When they realized that they were arguing with her in vain, they gave her their blessings.

Yehudis prayed a heartfelt prayer to Hashem, and then she put on her most beautiful clothing and jewelry, which had been left in the closet since her husband’s passing. Her loyal maid packed a basket with bread, salted cheese and a few bottles of strong aged wine. She balanced the basket on her head and the two women left the house.

The guards had been informed in advance, so they opened the gates for them with nary a word. Their lips merely murmured a silent prayer for the success of the mission this courageous woman had undertaken.

The sun quickly set behind the mountains, the same mountains we see from our houses, and the two women crossed the valley in the shadows.

"Halt! Who goes there?"

The women stopped. Holopurnus’ men approached them with drawn swords. "Who are you and where are you going?" they asked in surprise.

"I am a Jewish woman and I have a secret to tell General Holopurnus," answered Yehudis proudly and fearlessly. The soldiers lowered their weapons. In those days women were not perceived as a danger.

Holopurnus sat in his tent, reclining on his bed, which was covered with a canopy embroidered with gold and silver threads and encrusted with jewels. Commanders of his army drank merrily with him, in anticipation of the victory they would soon enjoy.

"My master and general," said a guard as he entered the tent, "A Jewish woman is waiting outside and she wants to talk to you." The commanders exchanged wondering glances, and Holopurnus, who smelled some action that would breathe some life into his monotonous routine, ordered that the guest be allowed to enter.

"Who are you?" he asked curiously, "and what did you come for?"

"I am a Jewish woman. Life in the besieged city is getting on my nerves. I came to show you how to enter the city which will fall into your hands."

Holopurnus’ ears perked up at this announcement and Yehudis explained, "Achyor, the ruler of Amon, was right in what he told you. Our men found him and he told them everything. As long as the Jewish people do not sin, you will not be victorious. But they won’t be able to withstand the siege much longer. The little food they have remaining will be used up soon, and my people will have no choice but to eat their non-kosher animals. They will have to taste the fruits and grains that were set aside for maasros and bikkurim. When they do these sins, Hashem will be angry and they will immediately be given into your hands.

"Since I know all this, I fled the city and came to you to ask you to have mercy on me and spare my life," concluded Yehudis. "I bribed the guards and we agreed that each evening I will approach the wall and they will report the latest news to me. When the time is right, I will lead you by the easiest route so that you can enter the city confidently, with no need for warfare."

Holopurnus was thrilled. He was sure his gods were at his side and that his luck was shining. "You are a wise woman," he flattered Yehudis. "If it is as you say, I will marry you and you will be one of the most important women in the kingdom."

At Yehudis’ bequest, an order was given to the guards to allow the two women to come each evening in order to be able to pray to G-d and to get the latest information from the Jewish guards.

Holopurnus invited Yehudis to dine with him, but she declined. "I brought kosher food with me," she explained, "and that is all I will eat."

"What will happen when you finish it?" asked Holopurnus, with a dubious tone in his voice. "Where will I get food that will be to your liking?"

Yehudis calmed him with a smile and told him not to worry. Unbeknownst to him, the drama would finish long before that.

The next evening, Yehudis went out for her daily walk, accompanied by her maid. The guards, following orders, allowed them to pass by peacefully. Yehudis approached the wall and asked the guards to send a message to Uziyahu saying that her plan was progressing beautifully.

On the third day, Holopurnus arranged a sumptuous meal for a few of his close men, and he sent a messenger to invite Yehudis to join them. When she came, he placed her at an honored position at his side, and invited her to help herself to the delicacies.

"If you please, I will eat what I brought along with me," said Yehudis, and she removed a piece of hard cheese. She offered Holopurnus some of it, and touched by the friendly gesture, he accepted.

"It’s good, very tasty," he mumbled with his mouth full, as he took another slice of the salty cheese.

"I’m thirsty," he announced, as he finished a large portion of cheese. Yehudis poured him a cup of the fine wine she had brought with her. After a number of cups, the general’s head began to nod. One more cup sufficed to knock Holopurnus out, and there he lay in bed.

"It isn’t fitting for the general’s honor that his men remain here while he is in this state," said Yehudis resolutely, and she asked everyone to leave. She had her maid wait outside the tent, to warn her of any unexpected visitors.

The deed she had to do was foreign to her, but she knew she had no choice. The fate of her nation was in her hands. The lives and freedom of her brethren, the honor of the Beis HaMikdash and the Kohanim...

"Please Hashem, give me strength!" she prayed as she took Holopurnus’ sword, which hung near his bed. Her heart was aflutter, but she knew this wasn’t the time to indulge her emotions. She had to disconnect, to rise over and above the parameters of time, place, and even her sense of humanity. She had to operate and think in terms of victory. Before her was her exalted goal. The deed she would now do would determine and establish the history that would be related for hundreds and thousands of years to come. Yehudis raised the sword and swung it with all her might…

Blocking her emotions, she wrapped the decapitated head and placed it in her basket. She covered the body with a blanket and left the tent. Her loyal maid didn’t need to be told what to do. Without a word, she followed her mistress.

That evening as well, the guards allowed them to pass undisturbed. The two women walked quickly, yearning to be with their people and longing to bring them the good news. Word of the arrival of the brave woman quickly spread, and everybody, young and old, came to greet her. Their eyes widened in shock when she opened her basket, and showed Uziyahu and everyone else the trophy she had brought with her.

Achyor the Amonite was present. When he saw the head of Holopurnus, the man who threatened to take revenge against him, he fainted. When he came to, he blessed and praised Hashem, G-d of Israel, and accepted belief in Him and resolved to circumcise himself.

Yehudis related the chain of events and added, "Hang Holopurnus’ head high on the tower. When the sun rises, arm yourselves and leave the city, but do not enter the enemy’s camp."

"When Holopurnus’ soldiers see you coming, they will undoubtedly run to the camp in order to receive orders in light of the new developments. They will enter the tent, and when they find his headless body, they will flee in terror. Then you can chase them and kill them, for that is exactly what they planned to do to us!"

It all went according to her plan. When the enemy soldiers found their general’s headless body, they realized that in addition to his head being gone, their head and leader was gone. Without their leader they were powerless. Soon word arrived that his head was hanging on the wall of the city of the Jews! In a panic, the soldiers fled in all directions. The Jewish people chased after them, killing many thousands.

For three days the Jews celebrated. People could finally walk the streets again and smile. Little by little, life returned to normal. Yehudis returned home to her modest ways and good deeds. She was granted a long life, reaching the age of 105. The valorous deed she did was not forgotten; it has remained in our history ever since.


The Jews heard about Holopurnus’ conquest, and they trembled. Wherever he went, destruction and death followed.




A representative of a certain party dared to add, "To prove our readiness to make far-reaching concessions, let’s let Holopurnus sit at the head and lead the political discussions."




"I’m thirsty," he announced, as he finished a large portion of cheese. Yehudis poured him a cup of the fine wine she had brought with her...


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