Last night, many Jewish families sang the song “Ma’oz Tsur” (usually translated as “Rock of Ages”), authored by a medieval poet about whom nothing is known save his name, Mordechai. The song—of which the first stanza is the best known—describes various historical incidents where the Jews were oppressed and then triumphed, culminating with the Hasmonean victory over the Seleucid monarchy. The sixth and final stanza refers to the future, messianic redemption and the end of the exile, yet there is an ongoing debate among modern scholars about whether this was a later addition. Yitz Landes suggests a literary solution to the puzzle:
In the first stanza Mordechai writes in the second person and beseeches God to rebuild the Temple. Looking forward to that moment, the poet declaims that “it is then that he will finish with song and psalm,” the dedication of the altar. But this line can also be read as a meta-poetic comment, in which Mordechai is referring not only to the incomplete nature of the Temple’s past dedication, celebrated on Hanukkah, but also to the unfinishedness of his own poem.
In other words, Mordechai wrote a poem that is intentionally missing a final stanza. In this reading, Mordechai left out a concluding stanza, for it is only at that future time, when God ends the exile, that the poet can return to finish the poem. . . . In exile, not only is history unfinished, but so is poetry; . . . one day, the song will be complete, and we can all eat our latkes in peace.