“Al ha-Nissim…Danta et Dinam”
(In memory of Yaakov Yehudah Frimer)
In the Al ha-Nissim prayer added to the amida and birkat ha-mazon during Chanukah, we describe God's role in assisting the Hasmoneans in their struggle to resist Greek oppression and domination. We declare: "Ravta et rivam, danta et dinam" – "You waged their battle; You took on their case."
Rav Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk (1853–1918; Mesora, VI, 8) notes that “danta et dinam” could be a priori interpreted as describing the Almighty acting either as a litigant, or as judge. Indeed Midrash Rabba (commenting to Bereishit 35:17), observes that in some instances God in the Bible is described as "standing" in judgment, whereas in others He is said to "sit" in judgment. The Midrash reconciles these two descriptions by explaining that God functions alternatively as judge or litigant. In Jewish law judges are required to sit while presiding over a case, and thus the description of God sitting refers to His capacity as judge. Litigants, however, must stand as they present their arguments. Thus, when we find verses speaking of God "standing" in judgment, it refers to His status as litigant.
Returning to Al ha-Nissim, Rabbi Soloveitchick suggests that we speak here not of God in the capacity of judge trying our case against the oppressors, but rather as litigant "suing" the enemy nations on our behalf. He does not merely judge the nations; He brings them to court as the plaintiffs. Given the nature of the People of Israel’s special relationship with the Almighty, an attack against Israel is seen as an attack against Him, as it were, and He thus takes "legal action" as though He were personally affected. Rav Chaim argued that this is likewise the intent of the blessing recited after the Megila reading on Purim – "…ha-rav et riveinu ve-ha'dan et dineinu…" – You sued the enemy nations on our behalf.
This concept perhaps bears particular significance for the Chanukah victory which came about through the bold efforts and initiatives of the Jews of the time. The Maccabees could have attributed their unlikely victory to their strategy and courage, overlooking the hand of God that led them to triumph. Indeed, the nes pakh ha-shemen – the miracle of the sole cruse of oil – could be seen as God's "reminder" to the Hasmoneans of His role in their victory. It was a clear indication that it was He who enabled the "small jug" – the tiny group of devoted warriors – to outlast and overwhelm the mighty Greek oppressors.
Specifically in Al ha-Nissim, which focusses on the military victory and makes no explicit mention of the miraculous cruse of oil, we emphasize God's role as "litigant". He looked upon our struggle as His own, and it was thus He who waged this battle and vanquished the enemy. He not only "judged" the enemy and decided in our favor; He personally took on our cause and led us to this miraculous victory and restoration of independence.
May we too benefit from God’s providential protection in our confrontation with our relentless enemies.
(Based on Rabbi David Silverberg, Surf a Little Torah, Vayigash 5771 at
Rabbi Dr. Aryeh A. Frimer is the Ethel and David Resnick Professor Emeritus of Active Oxygen Chemistry at Bar Ilan University. Aryeh.Frimer@biu.ac.il