Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Amram son of Sultana

Chanukah - An Eternal Light

Unlike Greek thought, Judaism teaches that all of man's actions possess value and make an impression upon the heavens and earth - momentarily and eternally. The morality of man is not mere courtesy; our commandments are not some external performance.


Rabbi David Chai Hacohen

Kislev, 5761
1. Where Did Greece Go Wrong?
2. The Eternal Value of Life
3. Kindling Lights - How and Why

Where Did Greece Go Wrong?
On the Festival of Chanukah, we celebrate the Nation of Israel's victory over the evil Greek Empire, which strove to efface God's Torah and cause us to violate His commandments. Thanks to the compassion of the Almighty, the weak few overcame the mighty many. In so doing, the foundation for the Kingdom of Israel was laid via the Hasmoneans, and the honor and glory of Torah rule returned to Israel during the age of the Second Commonwealth.
What was the great difference between the spirit of Israel and the spirit of Hellenism that led to these fierce battles? In what way was Israel's victory significant? How does this triumph find expression in the obligation to kindle Chanukah lights and the halakhic details which are connected thereto?
Let us begin by clarifying the difference between the faith and law of Israel, on the one hand, and Greek philosophy and practical wisdom on the other.

Regarding the spirit of the Hellenism, the Sages of Israel have said that it is close to the light of the faith of Israel. The Gemara itself tells us that the Sages permitted writing a Torah scroll in Greek. The essence of Greek thought is given voice by "the Philosopher" in Rabbi Judah HaLevi's classic work, "The Kuzari." There, we find that the Greeks also believed in a lofty absolute being which was the ultimate source of all that exists. They held the power of human intellect in very high esteem. They also established guidelines for ethical behavior and proper conduct, which included courtesy and modesty - values which are necessary for the preservation of communal life. In this, the Greeks laid the foundations of democracy, a system which, until today, is given high regard by sociologists and those who strive for the betterment of society.
On the face of things, these are also the ingredients which make up the spirit of Israel. This being the case, why was the strife between these two outlooks so great that the sages said: "Cursed is the man who teaches his son Greek wisdom?"

The Eternal Value of Life
The answer is this: While, on the surface, the differences between Judaism and Hellenism appear small, in truth, they are of great significance and carried great implications in all areas of life. These differences create a vast breach between our ways and those of the Greeks.
The Greeks believed in the exaltedness of the Infinite, yet, in their grand veneration, they made a critical mistake. They estimated that because of the greatness of the Infinite - i.e., the Creator - it is unthinkable that He have any connection with corporeal man, formed of the dust of the earth, "whose beginning is a putrid drop, and whose end is a worms and maggots." Hence, they estimated that the Creator is unconcerned with the actions of man and does not oversee the direction of his life. Ethical matters and man's intellect have no eternal value; they only serve the physical-practical good of man in this world. According to Greek thought, prayer and the fulfillment of commandments are of no worth; they are only valuable from a ritual-cultural perspective. In other words, body without soul.

This, though, is not the way of the Jews. The faith of Israel seeks to perform a marriage between the heavens and the earth. Not only does God's loftiness not divorce Him from the man, it demands that man purify himself and ascend ever higher. The Almighty commands man, oversees his actions, and rewards him according to his efforts. God has not deserted man; wherever man goes, God is aware of his behavior, good or bad.
The People of Israel have accepted this faith and made it the goal of their entire existence. The entire life of the nation, in all of its details, small and large, in every form or aspect of living from morning until night are built upon this faith. We believe that all of man's actions possess value and make an impression upon the heavens and earth, momentarily and eternally. The morality of man, then, is not mere courtesy; our commandments are not just some external performance.

Hellenism saw in this world and its pleasures the ultimate goal. The life of man, which found expression in sculpture, game, art, and entertainment - all of which were emphasized as a result of despair in the belief of man's eternal life - rests upon the maxim: "Eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die."
According to Judaism, this world is important inasmuch as it is a "passageway to the world to come," but not as something detached from it. We do not despair from the eternal truth, despite our smallness. We know that our fleeting life is tied to an eternal one, that our actions make an impression above and below. Therefore, we do not base our existence upon those values that do not have eternal significance; we make use of them to the degree that they uplift us, thus providing the necessary strengthen for our true service: the service of God and of His nation, Israel.

The unique strength of Israel lies in its ability to light a torch from the lofty supernal flame and with it illuminate the dark alleyways of the material world. The Greeks, who championed the diffusion of matter and material existence for its own sake, could not accept the claim that with a small amount of matter it is possible to create and infuse the spirit of life and to give it exalted and profound value. Upon this backdrop, armed with multitudes of legions, the Greeks came with the intention of trampling one puny nation whose entire strength lay in its enormous faith.
Many Jews allowed themselves to be awed by the Greek prowess which their senses perceived. They abandoned their faith and were swept up by the ugly current of filthy carnal pulsating multitudes. Only a handful remained loyal to the faith of Israel, continuing to cling to it and its laws with all their might.
Behold, the decisive moment arrives, wherein the Greeks wish to put an end to the final pockets of resistance. Here, the few overcome the many; the weak overpower the strong; the unswerving faith which united heaven and earth crushes the flimsy and forceless faith of the Greeks. The greatness of spirit and sanctity in a small amount of matter overcomes massive physical might which was lacking of any spirit. And as it is in war, so it is in nature. The small amount of pure oil which remained, overcome all odds and burned for eight days.

Kindling Lights - How and Why
Our ability to use the light of the faith of Israel to illuminate the outer darkness was proven. Therefore, the Chanukah lights are supposed to be kindled at the entrance to the house - outside. And where there is a mezuzah on the door post (the mezuzah indicates that God, who is at present "our God" alone, will one day in the future be the "One God" of all humankind), it is fitting that it be on the right side of the doorway, while the Chanukah candles be on the left. Only a home founded upon faith can illuminate outward. Hence, the mezuzah, which is the foundation, is on the right, while the Chanukah candles go on the left, illuminating outwards.
If there is a courtyard facing the public domain, one must light at the entrance of the courtyard, for the true objective of the commandment is to publicize the miracle of the supernal light in the direction of the public domain. If there is no proper doorway, and hence no mezuzah, the lights should be lit on the right side.

One who lives on the second floor must light in front of a window which faces the public domain, and if he lives on a floor which is higher than twenty cubits (approximately 20 meters), such that one who stands in the street below does not take notice of the candles, they are to be lit on the living-room table, in order that the miracle be publicized before the family members. In such a case, there are Torah authorities who hold that the candles should be lit by the entrance on the inside. The reason for this is that, during our exile, the nations would make decrees forbidding us from lighting in public so that we not publicize the commandments of Israel. The sages therefore legislated that Chanukah lights be kindles upon a table in the house, the publicizing of the miracle to family members being sufficient.
Now that we have returned to our homeland, and we are free of the yoke of the nations, we may reinstate the practice of lighting candles at the entrance of the courtyard or the home. And while there are indeed some who follow this practice, others continue to fulfill their obligation by lighting inside.
Perhaps these situations say something about our plight today, when light and darkness are mixed. On the one hand, we have a state of our own - the State of Israel - and its flag is raised high; Jerusalem is slowly becoming reilluminated with Torah; the Holy Tongue rings once again throughout the land of Israel, and biblical names are making a reappearance in the world. On the other hand, the nations of the world, continuing in the footsteps of ancient Greece, continuously attempt to suppress the faith of Israel with the sheer force of their military and financial machinery.

Yet, the light of Israel is forever growing and will eventually shine through in full intensity.
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