Imagine a football game that features a selection of NFL players who form two evenly-matched teams, with the exception of quarterback. One team starts Minnesota Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman who, through week 11 of the NFL season, had thrown the fewest touchdowns and passed for the second-fewest yards. The other team starts Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning who is leading the NFL in both touchdowns and passing yards. Should be a blow-out, right? But imagine Josh Freeman’s team decimating Peyton Manning’s team. What an upset!
The Chanukah Al-HaNissim prayer lists five phrases, each of which should have given the Greeks a blow-out victory over our Jewish ancestors.
The Freeman-over-Manning upset would correspond to the first phrase, “Mawsarta giborim b’yad chalashim” (You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak).
The Al-HaNissim phrases are: Mawsarta (You delivered): 1. Giborim b’yad chalashim: the strong into the hands of the weak. 2. Rabbim b’yad m’atim: the many into the hands of the few. 3. T’mayim b’yad t’horim: the impure into the hands of the pure. 4. R’shawim b’yad tzaddikim: the wicked into the hands of the righteous. 5. Zaydim b’yad os’kay torahtecha: the wanton into the hands of the diligent students of Your Torah.
The wording of Al HaNissim suggests that each of these individual five attributes should have given a military advantage to the enemy. But it’s not as though there were five separate battles in which the weak defeated the strong in the first battle, the few defeated the many in the second battle, etc. In each battle all five of these attributes were at play. When these five attributes are compounded, the Al HaNissim phrases reads: Hashem delivered the strong, impure, wicked and wanton Greeks into the hands of the weak, outnumbered, pure and righteous diligent students of Torah. That was not merely an upset; it was an exponential upset, an upset raised to the fifth power.
To better relate to the magnitude of our upset victory over the Greeks, let’s extend the Freeman-over-Manning upset. We are now in the thick of the football season. At the conclusion of week 11, the NFL’s best and worst in five key offensive, defensive and special teams positions were:
Touchdowns—most: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos 34; fewest: Josh Freeman, Minnesota Vikings 2.
Passing yards—most: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos 3,572; second fewest: Josh Freeman, Minnesota Vikings 761.
Touchdowns—most: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions 11; fewest: Jerome Simpson, Minnesota Vikings 0.
Yards—most: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions, 1083, fewest: Jerome Simpson, Minnesota Vikings 492.
Rushing yards—most: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles 1,009; fewest: Mike Tolbert, Carolina Panthers 213.
Sacks—most: Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts 13.5; fewest: Antonio Smith, Houston Texans
Yards per punt average—most: Brandon Fields, Miami Dolphins 49.3; fewest: Brian Moorman, Buffalo Bills 40.6.
If “the strong, impure, wicked and wanton Greeks losing to the weak, outnumbered, pure and righteous diligent students of Torah” were translated into football terms it would read: The team made up of quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, running back LeSean McCoy, defensive lineman Robert Mathis and punter Brandon Fields was decimated by the team made up of quarterback Josh Freeman, wide receiver Jerome Simpson, running back Mike Tolbert, defensive lineman Antonio Smith and punter Brian Moorman. Now that would not just be an upset, but an upset of biblical proportions.
We in the New York area have been treated to many delightful upsets over the years: our Jets rock the Baltimore Colts in the 1969 Super Bowl; our Amazin’ Mets amaze the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series; who could ever forget the “Miracle on Ice” in which our U.S. ice hockey team shocked the Soviets at the 1980 Winter Olympics and our Giants defeat the undefeated New England Patriots in the 2007 Super Bowl? But are any of those upsets more miraculous than the weak, outnumbered, pure and righteous diligent students of Torah routing the strong, impure, wicked and wanton Greeks? Not by a long shot.
Ira Buckman lives in Teaneck.
By Ira Buckman