What relates an enemy of Judah Maccabee to a gateway into the Jerusalem Temple?
According to II Maccabees 14:28 General Nikanor, who Josephus calls governor of Samaria, marched against Judah Maccabee at the Syrian king’s command, and threatened to destroy Jerusalem and to turn the sanctuary into a temple of Dionysus, unless Judah was delivered to him by the Temple priests.
Nicanor’s great grandson, Nikanor the forth, was a wealthy businessman who converted to Judaism. There was a gateway into the Jerusalem Temple named after him.
The Holy Temple in Jerusalem had several different gateways for people to enter. The most beautiful of the gates had two doors made of copper. This gate was named Nikanor’s gate after a Greek who grew up in Alexandria.
Nikanor had converted to Judaism as a young man and moved to Jerusalem to study Torah with the great sage Hillel, and Hillel’s teachers Shemayah and Avtalyon, both of whom were also converts to Judaism.
Most non-Jews who become Jewish are very good Jews and Nikanor was no exception. Nikanor wanted to make a special contribution to the Temple to atone for the terrible things his great grandfather had threatened do to Jerusalem; and in honor of all the non-Jews who had become faithful Jews.
He returned to Alexandria and commissioned skilled artists to make a pair of beautiful copper doors. Up to that time all the doors of the Temple gates were made of wood. Metal doors are very heavy and difficult to move so Nikanor’s copper doors were made to be hollow.
When the two doors were finished, Nikanor took them with him on a large ship sailing to Israel. Half way to Israel a big storm came. The waves tossed the ship up and down and the ship was in danger of sinking.
The sailors felt the two copper doors were heavy and should be thrown overboard. Nikanor begged them to spare one door and they agreed.
The storm became worse. The sailors wanted to throw overboard the other copper door. Nikanor said that they should not fear. The doors were for the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to honor non-Jews who became Jews. The God of Israel wouldn’t let the sailors drown if they helped do something good.
Some sailors agreed but others didn’t. Then Nikanor the convert, said that if they threw the other copper door overboard; they would have to throw him overboard also. He held on very tightly to the door’s handle; and wouldn’t let go.
The sailors decided to wait a little longer; and in the next hour the sea became calm. When the ship reached the port of Acco, Nikanor got off with the remaining copper door. Nikanor was very sad that only one copper door had survived.
As he looked out to sea Nikanor the convert saw something amazing. The other copper door had somehow followed behind the ship; and was now floating toward the shore.
Nikanor brought both doors to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem where they were installed in a prominent place to honor all the non-Jews who had become faithful Jews. The gate where the doors hung was called Nikanor’s Gate.
Years later golden doors replaced all the wooden doors in the Temple’s gates. But the copper doors in Nikanor the convert’s Gate were left as they were, as a tribute to the miracle that had occurred due to one convert’s devotion, and to honor the even greater miracle of all the non-Jews over the centuries who have become faithful Jews.