Authenticity in a world festooned with throwaway charm (Adapted from an Article published in Hamodia)
The ancient Greeks were fully aware of the fact that their agenda precluded any reconciliation with spirituality in any authentic form. They nonetheless continued to live their lives with a paradoxical attachment to specious hallucination created by paganism. They mixed advanced science and philosophy with the worship of gods that lived Hollywood versions of their own lives. The tinsel and the technology were mixed to make same insipid cocktail then that is does today. They were willing to see either dimension of the extreme distortion created by self-worship. They were prepared to worship their lower side or their higher side but not the center created by truth. We are prisoners in a world in which they call the shots. Where can we find the core of authenticity in a world festooned with throwaway charm?
The Maharal tells us that the mitzvos give connection to Hashem’s mind. The essence any person is their mind. It is the repository of their inner life. The mitzvos give us the potential to do deeds that do far more than improve our lives in the transient and relative sense. They connect us to truth; to the elusive center. They change our lives in the most absolute and permanent sense. Without them, our life as a people is meaningless.
Once we recognize this truism, we can understand the nature of the Chanukah story. As the Rambam points out, there are two events that are worthy of celebration. The first one is that Hashem saved us from the spiritual and physical oppression of the Greeks. This led to the return of the Jewish monarchy for two hundred years, until the destruction of the second temple. It was a ray of light, fragile and ultimately extinguished.
The second one is the miracle of the oil remaining lit full eight days.
The second miracle, at first glance seems almost redundant. It occurred after the Greeks were defeated and the Mikdash recaptured. It’s purpose; the Maharal tells us is to bring us to the recognition that the victory had nothing to do with ourselves. It came neither as a result of our creating brilliant military stratagies, nor as a result of sheer muscle.. It had to do, rather with Hashem’s desire to reveal something of Himself to us, and to raise our awareness of our purpose in existence as a nation. For this reason the decision of the sages to institute lighting Chanukah lights as a mitzvah. We are not celebrating ourselves; we are celebrating our capacity to transcend ourselves. We are not making idols in our own image; we are reconnecting to the image of Hashem within us. We are rediscovering the center.
It is no coincidence that the miracle took place in the Bais Ha Mikdash. Nor is it a coincidence that the Greeks felt threatened enough by the very same place to systematically desecrate it. It was the focus of their fury. Let us seek to understand the reason for this hostility. In order to do so, we must go back to the first Parshah of the Torah, Bereishis. Rashi comments on the first posuk "In the beginning Hashem created….", with the remark that the Torah should have begun with the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, which is the first one that Hashem commanded the Jews (as a group), since the purpose of the Torah is instruction of how to live Hashems truth.. He concludes telling us that knowing that the world is created by G-d will silence the nations that accuse us of stealing land belonging to the Canaanites. By making us aware that the world is G-ds creation, we understand that He has the authority to give it to whomever he wishes. This is no doubt one of the most difficult Rashi’s in the Torah. Think of the implications of what we would not know had there been no Sefer Bereishis! We would know nothing of the Avos and Imahos, nothing of Yosef and the tribes, nothing of the great flood, nothing of the Covenant! We are told that the reason that we must know all of this is for when we defend our right to Eretz Yisrael to the nations.
Ramban explains that what Rashi is saying is that the world has spiritual purpose. We develop our ability to know Hashem’s will through the vicarious observation of the lives of the great seekers, and also the lives of the appalling moral failures. We must be able to differentiate between the path of Noach and that of Avraham, where the line is drawn with infinitely more subtlety. Only then can we claim a land that is meant to concretize our bond with Hashem with any legitimacy. It is there that our mitzvos are maximized. It is for this reason that Hashem created an entire planet. We must know that our being chosen for this mission is His will, and not a means of self-actualization on our own terms. If we fail to acknowledge this, then we have at least partially become "Greek" in our approach to life. If we don’t know this, then mitzvos will become sort of a self-help therapy. The city of Yerushalaim is the spiritual center of Eretz Yisrael, with Bais HaMikdash as its core. Nothing could threaten the Greeks more profoundly.
When Hashem chose the Heichal as the venue of His revelation, it was because we needed a statement of miraculous intervention. The Greeks would have otherwise won over our hearts. The danger was that real, just as it is now. The word Yavan (Greece) equals 66, the word Heichal equals only 65. In the realm of human perception, in which the integrity of the numbers define the spatial nature of this world, the impression made by the Greeks is greater than the one made by the Heichal. They nonetheless feared the truth of Torah.. Their passion poured out on the containers of oil. This too is no coincidence. The oil used in the Mikdash was the means by which the vessels were sanctified to G-d, rather than to themselves.
The self-sacrifice with which the Hashmonaim went forth into battle was the living proof that we are not Greeks. The Sfas Emes tells us that it was only after the victories that they knew how great the danger of extinction was, and how far they had fallen.
We want our homes to replicate the Bais HaMikdash. As we know, the service in the Bais HaMikdash was performed by the Kohanim. Their holiness was the key to the entire event. Sanctity is dualistic by its nature. It requires separating oneself from the limitations of the mundane, which is always self-oriented. How is sanctity developed?
The Gemarrah tells us that the Kimchis merited being the ancestress of seven Kohanim Gedolim in the merit of her extraordinary tznius. The Maharal tells us that the reward is one that is measure for measure. The ability to enter "lifnai vi-lifnim" to the innermost sanctuary can only be found in one who has found the innermost part of him and let that part define him. This trait is developed through modesty, and is transmitted generation after generation.
Separation from Greece is not enough. We must be ourselves. There has to be true commitment to see Hashem’s vivid presence constantly. This means that His presence should be felt when we rush off to work, and when we clean our homes. We must see the G-dliness of our children and not only their potentials and abilities. The worldview of the Greeks tells us to find ourselves in the world, through its conquest and in ourselves through self-idealization.
The worldview of the Torah tells us to find Hashem within ourselves and in the world through the mitzvos. We may be moved by human accomplishments and inspired by them, but never defined by them.