June 2, 2023
Beha’a’lot’cha: Believe it or Not: Maoz Tzur!!!
Ma′oz Tzur is a beautiful five-stanza Hebrew liturgical poem from the thirteenth century. Each verse describes a different example of the Jewish community being saved from their enemies: the Exodus from Egypt, the end of Babylonian captivity, the miracle of Purim, and the Hasmonean victory of Hanukkah. A sixth stanza is sometimes included, calling for redemption from the current enemies of the Jewish people, but it is not clear whether this is part of the original that was censored out of some versions, or a later addition.
So, in fact Ma′oz Tzur is just as much a Passover or Purim hymn as it is a Hanukkah hymn. Somehow, perhaps because Hanukkah is the last event mentioned in the poem, or because Hanukkah doesn’t have its own Haggadah or Megillah, the song has become associated exclusively with Hanukkah.
You may ask why we are highlighting Ma’oz Tzur as our Shir Shel Shavua, but there is a textual justification.
In this week’s Torah portion, Beha’a’lot’cha, we continue the Torah reading with a description of the items adorning the Mishkan. The detailed instructions of the lighting, the cleaning, and the placement of the Menorah are reviewed for the Levites to understand their sacred tasks.
Next, our Haftarah this Shabbat, from Zechariah 2:14-4:7, contains a vision of the golden Temple Menorah within a prophecy that was communicated by Zechariah shortly before the building of the Second Temple. The Haftarah therefore opens with a vivid depiction of the joy that will prevail when Hashem returns to Jerusalem: "Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for, behold! I will come and dwell in your midst, says the Lord”.
Here is a very different Ma′oz Tsur melody than you are used to.
This Sephardic tune was transcribed and harmonized in 1724 by Italian composer Benedetto Marcello (a younger contemporary of Vivaldi), from an old Italian Ashkenazi tradition.
Enjoy and Happy Hannukah in advance!