Rabbi Dov Ber Weisman
Chanukah is the time of year when we celebrate not only the defeat of Greek oppression, but also the victory over Hellenism.
Chanukah is the time of year when we celebrate not only the defeat of Greek oppression, but also the victory over Hellenism. It was a victory and vindication over a philosophy that states that although we are Jews, we are first and foremost Greeks, and that it behooves us to behave in such a manner to blend in with the host country to prove our allegiance and loyalty. Hellenism dictated that we should give our children Greek names, participate in Greek customs and holidays, and show our loyalty and patriotism to our country at every possible opportunity.
The Chashmonaim, the heroes of the Chanukah story, proved that assimilation is not the key to our survival, but is in fact the exact opposite--the source of our destruction. The more we stay loyal and proud Jews, and the more we adhere to the mitzvot and cling to our Torah, the more our survival is assured. We are not interested in being modern and sophisticated for its own sake. Our job and privilege is to adhere to the glorious tradition as handed down to us by our father’s fathers, all the way back to Mt. Sinai.
Perhaps one may find this approach callous and marked by a display of ingratitude to a host country which has granted us so many liberties and in which we have prospered.
Consider the following verse in Parshat Chayei Sarah. There our father Abraham declares, "I am an alien and a resident amongst you" (Genesis 23:4). Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, one of the greatest Talmudic scholars and thinkers of the past generation, explains that with this statement our father Abraham expressed the dual mission of each and every Jew on foreign soil. On one hand, he is a resident of the country and therefore it is incumbent for him to work and pray for the welfare of the government (see Jeremiah 29:7). But on the other hand, a Jew must always remember he is an alien in this country no matter how well and prosperous the moment might be. A Jew’s allegiance is to Hashem and His Torah and mitzvot.
Chanukah teaches us that our test is to be a good citizen, yet ready to be a lonely alien if necessary and to recognize that this is not our "home" country. Our challenge is to resist the allures and charms of a modern and sophisticated culture which distract us from maintaining our unique responsibility to Hashem and the Jewish people.
Rabbi Dov Ber Weisman, formerly of Atlanta, writes from New York.
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