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GUIDING LIGHT

by Pinchas Landis    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Darkness--the absent of light. There are not many things in the world as profound as darkness. From our youth, it is a symbol of fear. As we grow older, it remains a state in which things are uncertain and confusing.

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Darkness--the absent of light. There are not many things in the world as profound as darkness. From our youth, it is a symbol of fear. As we grow older, it remains a state in which things are uncertain and confusing. Whether in a youthful state of mind, or from a more mature perspective, darkness is not a preferable situation to be in. Yet, this is the adjective that our sages use to describe the exile of Greece--an exile of darkness from a country and a culture of darkness.

We must ask ourselves, when the rest of the world thinks about Greece, images of culture and great wisdom come to mind. Many of the roots to modern day philosophy and science find their way back to Greece. If this is the case, why do our sages label them as darkness?

As if that were not perplexing enough, we see that our sages put Greece on a much higher level than most other nations of the world. The Talmud discusses how Greek is the only other language besides Hebrew that a Torah scroll can be written in. Why is this? The Talmud teaches this is because of the beauty of that language. Is darkness beauty?

Rabbi Chaim Frelander, one of the great Jewish philosophers of the previous generation, was bothered by this very question, and he explains how such a "light unto other nations" can still be darkness in the eyes of the Jewish people.

Rabbi Frelander explains that the Talmud teaches that the Greeks once took 70 elders of the Jewish people and had them all translate the Torah into Greek. Why would the Greeks even want the Torah in the first place? The answer is because the Greeks were on a much higher level than any other nation. It was considered a valid possibility that a Greek could understand the wisdom of our Torah far more than a member of any other culture. The Greeks, in a certain sense, were number two behind the Jews in wisdom, and they wanted to be number one.

Rabbi Frelander goes on to explain that a person is only jealous of that which is potentially in his grasp. A person has no serious desire for that which is beyond him. For these reasons, the Greeks wanted to destroy the wisdom of the Jewish people, and swallow it as their own leaving themselves as king of the mountain.

We see now why this exile was labeled as darkness. Even though, throughout this entire period, the Jewish people were never kicked out of their land, because the Greeks were trying to stamp out the wisdom of the Torah, it is still called an exile. And, because Torah is the ultimate light, this exile was called darkness.

We must try to understand, what was this struggle between us and them? Why did they see us as such a threat?

The Greeks believe in wisdom and wisdom alone. They thought that is how a person should lead his life.

The Jewish people, on the other hand, say wisdom is good, but when it is absent of G-d, its end is destruction. A person must use his wisdom, but his own wisdom must always be secondary to that of his Creator, who is far more wise than us all. When there is a conflict between a man’s wisdom and that of G-d, G-d must always prevail.

Because of this struggle, the Greeks thought that they could simply sever this connection between the Jewish people and G-d, and they would be the victors. Therefore they made several decrees.

First of all, they decreed that the Jews could not observe Shabbat. Why did the Greeks care about Shabbat? Shabbat is the very sign that we have that we are chosen by G-d, controller of time. In our holy Torah it states that Shabbat is the everlasting sign between G-d and his people. Without Shabbat, our badge has been removed.

Second, the Jews were not allowed to perform the brit milah (circumcision). Again, why? The brit milah is the sign that we have on our bodies that we are in the army of G-d, Creator of all beings. With this medal of honor, a Jew can never forget about who’s servant he is. Without this, we are open to serve anybody.

The third place where the Greeks struck was our holy Temple in Israel, the place that represents our connection with G-d, the master of space. This is the main place in the world where the presence of Hashem rests, and only the Jews may go to greet him. When this building is defiled, as it was then and is now, we have no arena for such meetings to take place. Our connection to the almighty is left further severed.

So this was the struggle, and this was the Greek response. Because of this, He for whose honor we were fighting, intervened with His powerful miracles and sent the Greeks back to Athens leaving the light of our Torah shining bright.

In many of his discussions on our festivals, Rabbi Frelander prefaces by explaining how these days are not just historical commemorations of events. When Hashem created the world, he placed certain flows of spirituality into the calendar at different times, and that is why the historical events took place then. So, each year, we do not travel further away from Chanukah, but we relive it. For that reason, we must ponder how this very struggle still exists on a level today.

Many of our Jewish brethren are more motivated by the wisdoms of the world, then the wisdom of our Torah. This makes for the same motif that took place several hundred years ago. At every time, but especially now when we have this extra flow of spirituality, we should do whatever we can to show our misguided brethren that what they have left behind, at home, in the attic, collecting dust and spider webs, something that they never even considered looking into, a wisdom far greater than what they could find anywhere else.

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Pinchas Landis, a native Atlantan, writes from Baltimore.

You are invited to read more Chanukah articles.

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