I didn’t always appreciate Maoz Tzur. Our Shul has a minhag to sing it before Maariv, with last verse repetitions, and it usually delays Maariv by about five minutes. I would sometimes get a little annoyed. I would take out a sefer. Or grudgingly sing along, as I wondered whether this delay in davening was really necessary.
A few years ago my feelings changed. While thinking through the “Miracles of Chanukah” sugya, I came to realize that lighting the Chanukah menorah expresses our desire to serve Hashem in a higher manner – in the absence of the full functioning Beis HaMikdash. Just like the Maccabees desired a pure service, our lighting expresses our connection and desire for such a service.
We can serve Hashem in many ways. There’s the learning of His Torah and the performance of His commandments. There’s the service of the heart – namely prayer. And sometimes we can serve Hashem by allocating five more minutes out of our busy schedule. Five minutes to sing a song of thanks and praise. Five more minutes in the Mikdash Me’at.
Maoz Tzur never sounded better.
(I wrote a post here about Our Divinely Approved Chanukah Service)