The 5th verse of Ma’oz Tzur describes the Chanukah story. One phrase in this verse is “ufortzu chomos migdalai“, which would be literally translated “and burst open the walls of my citadel”. Mentally, I used to picture breaking down the walls of the Beis haMiqdosh, or perhaps a fortress. However, I found the following mishnah in Middos (Ch. 2, mishnah 2 in the Yachin uBo’az edition, mishnah 3 in Kahati’s — who splits up the Yu”B‘s mishnah 1 into 2 parts). The second chapter describes the Beis haMiqdosh as it would appear to someone walking in from outside the Temple Mount to the Altar. This mishna picks up right after you walk through the gate and onto the Temple Mount.Reb Micha then weaves together ideas from Rav Hutner and Rav Shamshon Refael Hirsch to teach a lesson about the symbolism of the Soreg wall and the role of the Jewish People, with special relevance to the victory of Chanuka.
Inside of it is the soreg, 10 tefachim [appx 2'6"] high. It had thirteen peratzos (broken openings) there, that the Hellenist kings partzum (broke open). They returned and closed them off, and legislated corresponding to them 13 prostrations.
To help you picture what a soreg is, the root means woven. The Bartenura describes the soreg as a mechitzah woven out of thin wooden slats running at diagonals. The Bartenura compares it to the part of the bed used to support the mattress, with plenty of open space inside the weave.
He goes on to say that the Hellenists opened up holes in the soreg opposite each of the gates in the outer wall to let anyone see in. Note the shoresh used /p-r-tz/, the same as in the piyut. The soreg marked the limit for gentiles, they were not allowed in beyond that point. To the Hellenist mind, this havdalah bein Yisrael la’Amim, separation between the Jews and the other nations, was repugnant. It ran against their assimilationist efforts.
This pshat in Ma'oz Tzur is discussed by Rav Gedaliah Shor in his Or Gedaliyahu, by Rav Mordechai Vinkler in his Levushei Mordechai, and by Rav Mordechai Ezrachi in his Birkas Mordechai.
I only want to make a minor observation. In one of the Megillas Antiochuses (מגילת אנטיוכוס) that we have, a reference is made to breaches being made in a wall called "shaar bas rabbim." This can be seen here, four lines from the bottom. What it says is
Anyway, if the words of Maoz Tzur refers to the Soreg, the expression חומות מגדלי is odd, because the Soreg was certainly not a choma. If the description in Megilas Antiochus refers to the wall of the Har Habayis, or the Azara, whatever Sha'ar Bas Rabbim means, and it is not the Soreg, then it is an interesting coincidence that the number thirteen appears in both cases.
And finally, I want to publicize my personal experience this Chanuka. I always approach the holiday with a degree of anxiety, because my shiur has for a long time been giving me increasingly expensive and therefore embarrassing gifts, for Chanuka, Purim, my birthday, and Baruch Hashem there are no other days they've thought of. So last night, before coming into the shiur, I nervously glanced in, and I was relieved to see no tables were set, no sufganiyot, and no glint of gift wrap. I sat down to begin the shiur, and in walk my friends pushing a MASSIVE SNOW BLOWER. I mean massive in the sense that this is a multi-horsepower behemoth that can breeze down a block of two foot deep snow without a hiccup. It would plow through the Soreg with ease. I think this is unprecedented in the history of Daf Yomi, and I am proud of the bizarre but wonderful and heartwarming thought process, and the desire to show kavod hatorah and hakaras hatov that brought this about. May Hashem bless them, every last one of them, with Arichas Yamim v'Shanim of good health and happiness.
Here it is.
And this video is here partly because they're singing Maoz Tzur, but mostly because I like it. The group's name is Kipalive. Thanks, Steve, for sending it.