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IT'S ALL GREEK TO ME

by Pinchas Landis    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

The Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 21b) asks the following question, "What is Chanukah?" Isn't this a simple question? Chanukah is probably the most highly observed Jewish festival.

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The Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 21b) asks the following question, "What is Chanukah?" Isn't this a simple question? Chanukah is probably the most highly observed Jewish festival. Even the Jew who is, unfortunately, far removed from Jewish observance, lights Chanukah candles and eats potato latkes. But, do we even know why this festival is so important?

We can look to the Rambam, one of the leading Torah scholars and thinkers of the Middle Ages, for an answer to this question. In the Rambam's Thirteen Principles of Faith, there is a statement that relates to Chanukah. In principle #8 he states: "I believe with complete faith that the entire Torah now in our hands is the same one that was given to Moses, our teacher, peace be upon him." Now, you might ask yourself, what does the Torah's timelessness have to do with those eight little candles and greasy little pancakes? Indeed, this principle can teach us the essence of the days of Chanukah.

During the times of the Chanukah story, Greece was the cultural epicenter of the world. Along with this "culture" came a drive to influence the whole world to be like them, including the Jews. Unfortunately, many Jews became interested in the Greek-Hellenist culture, and they themselves became Hellenists. The saddest part is, that for these lost Jews, their Hellenism overshadowed their Judaism. This Hellenistic desire to assimilate the world into their weltanschauung resulted in the desecration of the Beit HaMikdash (holy Temple) and many Jews leaving Jewish observance.

Then, a small group of Jews led by a family of Kohanim (priests), the sons of Matityahu Ben Yochanan HaKohen, known as the Maccabees, began to revolt and fight back. These Maccabees were greatly outnumbered, but with extreme and obvious help from Hashem, they were able to throw back the Syrian-Greek forces time and time again until they won back the Beit HaMikdash. Thus, many of the Jews that had mistakenly seen Hellenism as a better way to live than Judaism, returned to their faith. They then rededicated the Beit HaMikdash, and the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days took place.

So, what was it that the Maccabees were fighting against? Assimilation. As Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky, a contemporary lecturer in Israel, put it, "the Maccabees were really fighting against the Jews; the Syrians and Greeks were another problem." The Maccabees were fighting to preserve the Torah. They were fighting the Hellenists (both Jew and Gentile alike) who sought to do away with the Torah, and have the Jewish people follow the gods of Hellenism.

When we study the Rambam's principles, we remember all that we have gone through to keep the Torah in tact over the generations. The war of Chanukah was a war for the survival of the Torah, because without the Torah - the same exact Torah which Moses brought from Hashem - there is no Judaism! This Chanukah, let us remember the success of the Maccabees; how they fought all the forces that tried to do away with the Torah. We must remember that the same battles that the Maccabees fought, we must also fight everyday. This Chanukah, let us remember that this Torah, that we have now in our hands, is the same Torah that was given to Moses, and with the help of Hashem, we will keep it that way.

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Pinchas Landis, a native Atlantan, is studying at Yeshivat Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem.

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