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To dedicate this lesson

The 2,200-Years War

The Jewish war against Greek culture continued with its battle against Christianity, which is a blend of Jewish and Greek-Roman ideas, and continues today as well. The leading culture today is Western culture, built on the foundations of Christian culture. And so the points of difference that exist today between Torah and Western culture are also based on the points of struggle between Greek and Jewish philosophy.

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Rabbi Netanel Yossifun

Kislev 29 5782
Adapted and translated by Hillel Fendel

I heard the following story directly from Rav Avraham Shapira, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz HaRav Kook and Chief Rabbi of Israel. He related that there was once a certain rabbi who used to deliver many in-depth Torah classes, and would always make sure to quote from the Shaagat Aryeh – Rabbi Aryeh Leib Ginzburg (d. 1785).

It turned out that one day, before his regular lecture, this rabbi fell asleep and had a dream. In his dream, the Shaagat Aryeh himself appeared to him with a strange request: "Please don't quote me today. I'll be busy and I can't be bothered." The rabbi awoke with a start and tried to understand what this could mean. He knew that the Shaagat Aryeh's son was still alive, serving as rabbi in a far-off community, so he figured he would be the one to ask. He rushed off a telegram to the town with a short question: "How is your rabbi, the son of the Shaagat Aryeh, doing?"

He quickly received a telegram in response: "Most unfortunately, our rabbi died today."

All at once, the rabbi understood why the Shaagat Aryeh had asked not to be bothered that day. It was because he had to go and welcome his son the tzaddik, as is the practice of relatives of the deceased.

But still, it was not totally clear: If someone's words of Torah are quoted, does this prevent him from welcoming his relatives into the World to Come?

Rav Shapira explained that this is based on the words a Sage named Gidul in the Jerusalem Talmud: "Whoever says a teaching in the name of the one who taught it, he should see himself as if the one who taught it is standing before him." That is, it is not just as if he is standing before him, but he is actually standing before him! And this is why the Shaagat Aryeh did not want to be quoted and have to stand before the rabbi-lecturer, because he had to go and greet his son at the same time.

There are some great Torah scholars who merited to have their teachings respected and valued for generations, and therefore their image and character also lasts throughout those generations. And this is true not only for great rabbis, but also for certain generations of Am Yisrael. Every generation has a specific spiritual function, and the joining of all the generations together reveals the essence of Am Yisrael (as explained in the Tanya and elsewhere).

One of the most significant generations in our history is that of the Hashmonaim. Every year, in the merit of the Hanuka holiday, we return and live the events of that generation. Let us ask: How did that generation merit to have its events remembered so eternally in the Jewish calendar? There were other miracles, after all; what was so special about the Hanuka miracles?

It would seem that the miracle of the flask of oil that lasted for eight days expresses the special Divine Providence that accompanied the Maccabee warriors in their incredible struggle against the giant Greek empire. This great Divine supervision over Israel is what we commemorate when we light the candles and recite Al HaNissim.

Historically speaking, the struggles of the Maccabees are very similar to those of us today. When the Greeks conquered much of the world, all the way up to India, it was not only a military conquest, but also a cultural takeover. Much of the idol-worshiping world replaced its pagan culture with the more refined world of the Greeks, which added concepts of beauty, sports, arts, and even philosophy. Though the Greeks retained some pagan aspects, it was clear to the idol worshipers that the Greek way of life was finer than theirs.

The Jewish world at the time found itself facing two new, sizable challenges: 1) Its cultural war became more intense than before, in that we were no longer facing ignorant pagans, but rather a more developed culture. 2) The entire world was united around one culture, leaving the Jewish People as a little isolated island in the international ocean, different than everyone else. It is natural for people to want to be like others, and with the entire world thinking one thing, little Judea was also drawn in that direction. And so the Hellenists among them gained much traction, and it appeared that true Jewish culture might actually disappear.

The Maccabean revolt put an end to this downward tumble, and gave new life to the Jewish People. The physical victory also provided a spiritual victory, against all odds. The Jewish People succeeded in defeating the Greeks because of its genuine, profound, eternal spiritual message. The Torah of G-d and of Israel will remain forever much stronger than any other culture.

Today, as well, Judaism faces a similar double whammy: A culture fueled by the internet and social media that gradually blurs all differences between the various national cultures and "unites" the world into one way of thinking. Torah remains the last bastion of truth and G-d's word.

The Jewish war against Greek culture continued with its battle against Christianity, which is a blend of Jewish and Greek-Roman ideas, and continues today as well. The leading culture today is Western culture, built on the foundations of Christian culture. And so the points of difference that exist today between Torah and Western culture are also based on the points of struggle between Greek and Jewish philosophy.

As we light our Hanuka lights, let us fill ourselves with hope and faith that today as well, the false culture of idol worship will crumble and make way for G-d's eternal word.

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את המידע הדפסתי באמצעות אתר yeshiva.org.il