DIVORCED FROM G-D?
As with all Jewish festivals, it is imperative that now, as Chanukah approaches, we reflect a bit about the message of Chanukah and determine what salient points we can take from the festival into the rest of the year. First, we must ask some questions about the festival of Chanukah in general.
As with all Jewish festivals, it is imperative that now, as Chanukah approaches, we reflect a bit about the message of Chanukah and determine what salient points we can take from the festival into the rest of the year. First, we must ask some questions about the festival of Chanukah in general. To begin, we know that Chanukah is, chronologically, the final revealed miracle that happened to the Jewish people as a whole that our sages decreed we should annually commemorate. Therefore, one must address the issue of why it is that Hashem chose this specific miracle to be the final miracle that the Jewish people should witness. It seems, in fact, that this miracle was meant to carry us as a people through the long years of exile following Hasmonean times. What is the special characteristic of this miracle that it was intended to light us through the dark years preceding the Messianic redemption? Also, why was this miracle performed specifically in the Temple with a common Temple command (to light the menorah)? Finally, why was this miracle performed specifically through the Hasmonean priests, the leaders of the warriors, who defeated the Greek army?
To address these questions we must first come to understand what it was that most specifically characterized the Greek nation at that time. More importantly, what was the particular aspect of Greek society that the Jewish people had to overcome in order to perfect themselves on their path toward the Messianic redemption? It is well-known that some of the greatest philosophers and scientists of all times came from the Greek nation. In fact, a great deal of modern science and philosophy is based on the methodology developed by the Greeks and the stress they placed on understanding the forces of science and philosophical logic. Yet, our sages tell us, that of the various languages used to describe the different exiles, the Greek exile is most succinctly characterized as darkness. What could be so dark and dismal about understanding the magnificence of our beautiful world?
The Ramban, a classic Medieval Torah commentator, explains that there are two basic types of heretics whose existence is rooted in the beginning of Man's history. One commonly toted heresy is that the world has always existed, albeit inexplicably, and that it was never actually created. This thought was most notably honed under one of the greatest Greek philosophers, Aristotle. The other basic form of heresy states that although G-d created the world, He has no direct influence on it, nor can anything in this world relate to G-d, because He is far too elevated to deal with such paltry existences. This concept was also quite popular in Greek philosophy, which felt that no human being could ever truly relate to G-d (or as they called it, the Great Intellect), and G-d was not concerned about what goes on in this world.
These two philosophies are what truly characterized the Greek nation as the ultimate representatives of darkness, because although they were very interested in understanding our fascinating world, they did not enter G-d in any shape or form into their equations of understanding. They claimed that G-d, in effect, has no connection to this world. This, then is the ultimate darkness; to strip our existence of the ultimate light, G-d himself, by claiming that He has no involvement in this world. With this in mind we can better understand the Greek decrees of this dark period which starkly contra sted Jewish domination under other exiles. Firstly, the Greeks wanted to translate the Torah into Greek because they realized its value as a work of literary art. However, we mourn the day that this occurred because the Greeks looked at the Torah as just that, a literary work of art, and not the direct instruction of G-d about how we can relate with Him and thereby perfect ourselves.
Similarly, the Greeks never planned to annihilate the Jews, only to stop them from the performance of mitzvot and the study of Torah. The Greeks' greatest opposition to us was only in our belief that what we do in this world is somehow recognized by G-d and acted upon by Him, and that by performing His will He would give us His blessings. Therefore, they attempted to uproot such "frivolous" activity and set humanity on the "correct" path.
It is perhaps for this reason that the Maharal, one of the seminal figures in Jewish thought in the last five centuries, explains (based on the Talmud Tractate Avodah Zarah 57b) that the greatest abuses of the Greeks was their defiling of different parts of the Temple. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that the Jews had such a hard time finding pure oil because the Greeks went out of their way to contaminate all the oil. The Temple, after all, was the place where G-d's presence was most keenly felt. It was there that the Divine presence rested on this earth, and it was from this epicenter that G-d's influence spread to the four corners of the earth. As our sages tell us, the different vessels of the Temple each represent different aspects of the world that Hashem influences and controls. For example, it is the shulchan (table) that represents Hashem's control over the physical nourishment of the world. In fact, each vessel not only represents different aspects of the larger physical world, but as the Malbim, a leading Torah scholar of the 19th century, explains they represent each part of the human body, which is also controlled by Hashem. It is based on this understanding that our service in the Temple is so crucial; because it most notably represents our belief that our serving of G-d in the Temple does in fact engender a response from Hashem in the physical world represented by the parts of the Temple. It is for this reason that the Greeks defiled the Temple and tried to stop the Jewish service there, to stamp out the belief that G-d is actively involved in our world and cares about what we do on this world.
The Maharal explains that this is represented by the fact that the numerical value of the Hebrew word for Greece, Yavan, is 66, which is one greater than the numerical value of the Hebrew word for Temple (Heichal in Hebrew) which is 65. This represents the fact that the Greeks perceived the world (represented by the Heichal, which, as we explained, represented all the different aspects of the human being and the physical world) in its scientific cause and effect appearance, divorced from G-d. In fact, this is represented by domination over the Temple representing the physical world (66>65) because they were successful, to some degree, in explaining the world by scientific means alone, without the hindrance of an actively involved deity.
What then is the answer to the Greeks? The Maharal explains that it is the silent Hebrew letter yud in the word Heichal, which overcomes the numerical value of the Greeks. It is this yud that represents the High Priest who is a symbol of the Holy of Holies, where G-d's presence most directly touches the earth (see commentary of the Ner Mitzvah for further explanation of the silent yud). Hence, it is by recognizing this indomitable connection between G-d (represented by the Holy of Holies) and the physical world (represented by the Heichal), by seeing His direct control over physical events, that we must battle the Greeks. This was brought into reality on Chanukah by G-d's performance of the miracle of lights, where we saw clearly that Hashem directly influences physical events. It is for this reason, the Maharal explains, that G-d performed the miracle of the Chanukah lights in the Temple; to stress the fact that G-d is directly involved with the world represented by the Heichal. Moreover, the miracle was performed by the Jews' performance of a mitzvah to show that Hashem does react to our service of Him. By showing G-d's involvement in human life through a clear miracle, the claims of the Greeks were soundly decimated.
The Maharal, using this concept, explains another perplexing point about the miracle of Chanukah. It seems that the real miracle that the Jews most benefited from was the fact that despite their weakness in numbers, they were able to defeat the powerful Greek army. Why then do we celebrate the miracle of the candles and not of the military victory? He explains that even in our victory there was room to explain our success as the product of superior strategy and the zeal of our soldiers. In other words, we could explain our victory as the product of nature, divorced from G-d, exactly as the Greeks would want us to. Therefore, Hashem performed the miracle of the lights, which was naturally inexplicable, to show the Jews that in every event Hashem is actively involved, and ultimately, it is through Him alone that our victories and our defeats, occur. The Meshech Chochmah, a foremost Torah scholar at the turn of the century, explains that it is for this reason that the miracle was shown to the Hasmonean priests in the Temple, for it was they who defeated the Greek military, and most needed to receive this message.
Moreover, the Ramban explains that this is the reasoning behind the mitzvot which represent and remind us of the miracles Hashem has performed for us in the past. By performing these mitzvot we actively remind ourselves that G-d has been clearly and directly involved with us in the past, and therefore, we come to the realization that even now, when His hand is not clearly recognizable, He is involved with every aspect of our lives. In fact, the Kuzari, a basic work of Jewish religious philosophy composed in the 12th century, explains that the miracles Hashem performed for us are the bedrock and clearest evidence of our faith. It is impossible that they were fabricated, because you cannot convince three million people (the number of people in the desert at the time of the exodus) that they saw something they did not see and command them to pass it on through the generations. Hence, it is through the miracles that Hashem performed for us openly, that we realize that Hashem is involved in every aspect of our lives and He cares about what we do.
How can we carry this invaluable lesson with us into the future - a time devoid of Hashem's open miracles? First of all, we must follow the advice of the Ramban who says that whenever a person does a mitzvah like wearing tefillin or affixing a mezuzah, which contain scrolls describing Hashem's miracles, or recites the part of the Shema prayer about our exodus from Egypt, he should concentrate on the great miracles that Hashem has clearly performed for us in the past. We must, in turn, recognize them as evidence that Hashem is involved even in our present lives and is concerned with our activities every moment of the day. Moreover, we must realize that everything we have and are capable of doing is the result of G-d's constant miracles, the miracle of life itself the most notable of them all. Secondly, perhaps we should all look back at our own lives (and our national history, like the Six Day War) and recognize the moments when we felt G-d was clearly involved and that His "hand" guided us through difficult situations or reproached us when we faltered. Maybe we should again relive the moments when we felt a moment of what seemed like Divine inspiration or ethereal happiness coursing through us. And with these in mind, hopefully we will come to realize that G-d, in truth, has always been involved every moment with us, and even now awaits our love and service of Him. Perhaps then we will truly be able to bless the G-d who has made miracles for our fathers on those days and in these times.
Ranon Cortell, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is studying at the Yeshiva of Greater Washington and the University of Maryland.
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