THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE
Rabbi Lee Jay Lowenstein
The story of Chanukah is perhaps the most beloved tale of Jewish might and perseverance in our history.
The story of Chanukah is perhaps the most beloved tale of Jewish might and perseverance in our history. Even the non-Jewish press acknowledges this triumph of the spirit and quest for freedom each year by proudly proclaiming "Happy Hanukah!" across their headlines. Who does not smile with pride as they recount the episodes of the incredible military prowess and miraculous outcomes of Judah the Maccabee and his brave brothers? Yet, if we wish to gain insight into the true victory of Chanukah and it's essential message, we need to consult our sages for guidance into what the real cause for celebration is all about.
The sages tell us that the Syrian-Greeks, unlike our earlier enemies, were out to eradicate the Jewish faith. Specifically, they targeted three key areas of ritual which they believed would undermine the stability of the community: Shabbat, Brit Milah and the sanctification of the new moon (Rosh Chodesh). Shabbat and Brit Milah are readily understandable; these are the pillars of Jewish identity. Sanctifying the months, however, does not seem to fit in with the rest. Of what great significance does it play?
There is a fascinating Midrash which expounds upon the four major exiles which the Jewish nation will be subject to in its slow march toward the Messianic Era. The Torah describes in the second verse of its narrative of creation: "The land was amazingly empty, darkness covered the great depths of the seas, and the spirit of the Almighty hovered upon the waters." Within this verse, our sa ges find an allusion to each of the mighty empires of the ancient world which ruled over the Jewish people. It is fascinating to observe that the word which hints to the rise of the Grecian kingdom is "darkness". When one thinks of Greece, one naturally thinks of the wisdom of Aristotle and his followers, the very foundation of all the sciences which have so greatly benefited Mankind. We tend to associate wisdom with words that are connected to light; a brilliant idea, the enlightenment, and a luminary are but a few examples of such terms. How then is it that our sages have labeled this phenomenal wisdom as "darkness"? It seems so incongruous to our logical way of reasoning.
Marketing experts will tell you that besides the word "Free", the single most powerful word which enhances sales is "New!" or "New & Improved!" Why is this so? Are we really so gullible that we consistently fall for nothing more than a glitzy splash of ink?
The human being possesses an infinite soul. The nature of this soul is that it constantly seeks to find something that will "fill it up", something that will offer it true pleasure and a sense of reality. When we see the word "New" it triggers deep in our sub-conscience a feeling of "Aha! Perhaps this is what I've been looking for all along! This is what will make me truly happy!" Unfortunately, we all know the sad truth. Happiness only lasts until the next clever profiteer beckons us with promises of newer and better hopes of fulfillment.
The reality is that there is nothing of this world that can adequately meet our need for happiness and fulfillment, for how can a finite object fill an infinite hole?
Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the new month, is the mitzvah which is the remedy for the aching, ever-searching soul. Rosh Chodesh symbolizes for us the ever present renewal in creation. Each and every month, the moon is recreated anew. In fact, the word "chodesh - month" is virtually the same as the word "chiddush - new". The monthly transformation of the moon serves as a sign that this quality of ever-present renewal is really an integral part of all of creation as well.
There is only one way for creation to remain fresh and vibrant - it must be constantly recreated by its originator. In the mind of the philosopher who preaches that G-d is dead and the world runs on its own, it is really the world which is dead, lacking any source of vitality and sustenance. To the Jew, Hashem is perpetually infusing the universe with life-giving energy, energy which comes from being directly connected to Him. In essence, it is the "newness" of the world which attests to an eternal component which is the very source of all reality. It is through our connecting to this component that we may finally find tranquillity for our restless souls. This energy is the true "light" of the world, the fire at the core which pulses every second of existence.
The Greek scientist, for all his greatness, seeks to divorce the world from its G-dly component, looking at the world as a self-contained machine. That is the ultimate darkness. Instead of setting his sights on the infinite, he erects artificial boundaries, "limits of the universe" (what we call the natural laws) and sets those as his outer limits of study. He is trapped by the walls which he himself has created, forever entombed to a world which is void of meaning and freshness.
Rosh Chodesh to the Greek is perhaps the greatest threat of all. Within its observance lies the secret of the Jewish soul, the secret of the eternally fulfilling relationship between Hashem and the people whom He cherishes. The brilliant, miraculous lights of the menorah symbolize the true victory over Greece, the triumph of true light over those who would seek to extinguish it.
Rabbi Lee Jay Lowenstein, who grew up in Atlanta and is a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta is a member of the Kollel at the Talmudic University of Florida in Miami Beach.
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