Here’s a bit about Maoz Tzur from the Koren Sacks siddur:
Maoz Tzur was composed in Germany in the thirteenth century. The first letters of the verses spell Mordekhai, other than this we cannot identify the author. The first verse recalls the dedication of the Temple and looks forward to its future restoration. The next four verses describe, sequentially, four crises and deliverances of Jewish history – slavery in Egypt, the Babylonian exile, Purim and Chanuka itself.
Maoz Tzur is an inspirational song. It takes us through some of the key events of Jewish history. Of how peoples throughout the ages rose up to destroy us but we managed to survive. It’s astonishing how many attempts have been made to wipe the Jewish people off the map but somehow we’ve survived and we’re as strong as ever. (Although Israel is under threat on all borders and many would love to see us gone).
Another amazing part of the song is the belief that one day things will be better. That one day we will return to the land God promised our forefathers. This isn’t the only prayer that speaks of the future restoration of the Temple and our return to Israel. It’s hard to find a prayer that doesn’t mention this belief and the Bible is full of promises of a future redemption, but we sometimes forget how extraordinary it is that our ancestors stayed strong to their beliefs and that, eventually, the Jewish people actually returned to its homeland. I ask myself whether I would have kept faith of a future return of the Jewish people to Israel in twelfth century Spain, France or Egypt. A millenium after the destruction after the destruction of the second Temple and almost another millenium to go till the Jewish people would actually return to its roots.
Maimonides in his Epistle to Yemen and Epistle on Martyrdom encourages the people to keep their faith. Would you have kept your faith in those dire conditions? Forced conversions, massacres, false Messiahs, not a hope in the world of returning to Israel. But they kept their faith and over eight hundred years later we’ve returned.
Chanuka Sameach and may we witness the rebuilding of the Temple soon.