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IT'S ALL GREEK TO ME

by Elly Berlin    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Chanukah is the only Jewish festival that is completely rabbinical in origin. Letís travel in place and time to Israel about 2,300 years back in order to appreciate what miraculous occurrences lead to the institution of this "festival of lights."

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Chanukah is the only Jewish festival that is completely rabbinical in origin. Letís travel in place and time to Israel about 2,300 years back in order to appreciate what miraculous occurrences lead to the institution of this "festival of lights."

Approximately 300 years before the common era, a powerful ruler named Alexander the Great, conquered the entire Persian empire including Israel, which the Persians had taken from the Babylonians in an earlier battle. Unlike previous rulers of Israel, Alexander was not a hostile enemy to the Jews. Rather, he accepted the Jews and longed for them to assimilate into the Greek culture that dominated his empire. The Jews found their modern surroundings to be inviting, and many of them quickly began to assimilate. Greek culture promoted ideas such as delighting in as much physical pleasure in this world as possible without regard for a world to come. "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die." Although such slogans are the complete antithesis of Judaism which sets crucial boundaries on physical overindulgence many Jews were blinded by the worldly delight and often became more Greek than the Greeks themselves. These Jews became known as Hellenists. The Hellenists dressed like the Greeks, talked like the Greeks, and participated in Greek social and sporting events. Many Jews opposed the Hellenists and chose to adhere tightly to their heritage, refusing to be influenced by the nonsensical temptations that surrounded them. For the most part, Alexander tolerated those righteous Jews who chose not to assimilate.

Alexander died around 170 B.C.E. and since he had no sons, his empire was divided among his generals. General Antioches Epiphanes became the king of many lands, including the land of Israel. Antioches insisted that Greek culture and religion unite his newly inherited empire. He decreed that all Jews worship pagan gods, he had his generals place such idols in the holy temple, and he ordered them to worship pigs on the holy altar. Furthermore, he forbade Jews from studying Torah and from performing certain commandments such as circumcision, observing Shabbat, and sanctifying the new moon. Some Jews accepted these decrees willingly while others accepted them hesitantly feeling like they had no other choice.

However, in a small town outside of Jerusalem called Modiíin, an elderly kohen (priest) named Mattathias refused to obey these orders and started a revolt together with his five sons. Even though no Jewish lives were at stake, Mattathias recognized the need to risk his life for the survival of Judaism. After Mattathias died, his son Judah led the revolt. Together, Judah and the Maccabees, a small and untrained army, went up against the massive well-trained forces led by Antioches. In a clearly miraculous battle, the Maccabees were victorious in 164 B.C.E. not long before the start of the first millenium.

As soon as the Maccabees regained control of Jerusalem they worked expeditiously to restore sanctity to the holy temple. They quickly removed the idols and pigs that had been brought in. They noticed that the menorah, which was supposed to remain kindled at all times, had been extinguished. The menorah could only be kindled with pure oil, which took eight days to procure. They did find one small jar of pure oil, but it was only enough oil to last for one day. Having no other choice, they lit what they had and in another miraculous event, that one-day supply of oil lasted the full eight days needed to obtain more.

Now, back to the turn of the second millenium in the United States of America. Perhaps the rulership of Bill Clinton in America is not so different than that of Alexander in Israel 2,300 years ago. Our president is not hostile towards Jews and in this country we are free to observe our religion without restriction. We even have the opportunity to live in Israel led by a Jewish government. We are allowed to serve G-d and to worship Him any way we choose.

However, just like back then, we are commonly accepted and gently encouraged to assimilate with the culture that surrounds us. Once again, we find ourselves slowly blending in with modern society, drifting toward the delights of worldly pleasures which entice our bodies away from the spiritual nourishment which sustains our souls. Perhaps one sad example is the common observance of Halloween, a holiday of pagan origin, by many Jews who no longer celebrate Purim or even remember what it represents. Left to continue down this path, our children may one day come to celebrate Christmas without celebrating Chanukah or even remember what it represents.

In the story of Chanukah, the miracle of pure oil was a perfect sequel to that of the military victory against Jewish assimilation. While all other nations and all other liquids readily mix, the Jews and the oil maintain certain properties that keep them unique and separate. When we perform the commandments and worship Hashem, we rise to the top and survive much longer than anyone would expect just like the oil.

Let us work together to prevent another Antioches Epiphenes by uniting now and taking advantage of our incredible religious freedom. If we each take baby steps in the right direction, we can move as a nation away from our earthly desires toward the coming of the Messiah, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the rekindling of its menorah in our time.

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Elly Berlin is developing a system of restoration and maintenance of health in a drugless and non-surgical environment in Atlanta.

You are invited to read more Chanukah articles.

You are invited to read more Parshat Vayeishev articles.

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