It was Matityahu (Mattathias) from the Hasmonaean priestly family who initiated the revolt against the Greek oppressors. But it was his son Yehuda (Judah) known as the Maccabee who was ultimately appointed the military leader by his father’s will. Yehudah eventually led the Jewish rebel army to victory against the Greeks. There are a number of reasons suggested why he was nicknamed the”Maccabee.”
One explanation is that “Maccabee” means “Hammer” which reflected his ferocity in guerrilla warfare. A second explanation is that “Maccabee” is an acronym of the Hebrew verse “Mi kamocha ba’elim Ado-nai, “Who among the gods is like you, O HaShem?”, which was his battle-cry to rally his troops. Exodus (15:11).
Yehudah Maccabee’s natural tendency was to acknowledge and remind his fellow Jews going into battle that there is no power in the world that exists independent of God, and that their victory depended solely upon His Will. This is totally in character for someone named Yehudah, as we have seen before.
Jacob’s wife Leah, the mother of the orginal Yehudah, understood that the essence of the mission of the twelve tribes would depend on “acknowledging that everything comes from God — there is no other power or source of blessing other than God.
There is no real word in hebrew for “thank.” The closest concept is the root “LeHodot” which really means “to acknowledge.” When Leah gave birth to her sixth son, she understood that God had fulfilled His blessing to her by giving her a full complement of six of the twelve tribes. She said, “Now I will thank (odeh) God.” Therefore she named her son “Yehudah” (Judah) which means “he will thank God.”
Leah’s son Yehudah would ultimately become the leader of the tribes, and King David would be his descendant. We are not called the Jewish (Judaen) People simply because the northern 10 tribes were “lost” and the majority of the Children of Israel today come from the tribe of Judah. We are called “Yehudim – Jews” because the essence of our mission is to teach the world that we must acknowledge (thank) with every breath at every moment that God is the source of all blessing, there is no other.
If there was someone who would purge the Temple of foreign gods, and thereby rededicate the Temple to the One and only God, it would certainly be someone named Yehudah Maccabee.