If you say, "The LORD is my refuge," and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. Psalm 91:9-10
Toward the end of the second century BCE, terror gripped the land of Israel. An enraged Greek king named Antiochus was livid over the Romans interceding in his war against Egypt. He decided to take his frustration out on the Jews of Israel who lived under Greek rule. He outlawed, among other prohibitions, keeping the Sabbath and eating kosher food and burned countless Torah scrolls. All of this was an attempt to destroy the Jewish faith and create a completely pagan society.
One day, the henchmen of Antiochus arrived in the small Israeli town of Modi'in and demanded that the old priest living there, Matityahu, offer sacrifices to Greek gods or face death. Matityahu declared, "I, my sons, and my brothers are determined to remain loyal to the covenant which our God made with our ancestors!"
This act of defiance spurred the revolt of the Jews who became known as the Maccabees and culminated in the miracle of the Hanukkah story.
During the course of the war, the Greek empire sent one general after another to defeat the small group of Maccabees, but all were unsuccessful. Finally, they sent 40,000 soldiers to put an end to the Jewish rebellion, but miraculously, the Maccabees defeated them, too. It was the ultimate military upset. A group of untrained priests, Torah scholars, and farmers defeated one of the mightiest armies in the world. Our Jewish sages teach that the Maccabees had a secret weapon: prayer.
They specify that in addition to praying before battle, the Maccabees would recite Psalm 91 while fighting. It is known as the "Psalm of Misfortune" because it pushes away destructive elements that might otherwise harm us. I can imagine Matityahu's son, Judah, reciting, "You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day" (v.5). I can hear his brother Simon whispering, as he walked into battle, "A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you" (v.7).
As this psalm teaches, "If you say, 'The LORD is my refuge,' and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent." The psalm continues with reassurance that God will send His angels to help us triumph over enemies, "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways" (v.11).
Today, I want to encourage us that no matter how difficult or dangerous our situation may seem, God can always shield us when we recognize Him as our Savior. There is no situation too difficult. Whether it's medical challenges, financial issues, or any other frightful situation, God can make us successful against all odds and bring us to victory.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President