Friday, December 23, 2005




Chanukah, the holiday of lights, is probably the most observed of all Jewish

Even the most non-observant Jews know the blessing (with the accompanying
melody of course). And for many it is the only blessing they know,

Yet Chanukah is, paradoxically, the most radically orthodox of all the
Jewish holidays; a living testimony to Jewish 'extremism'.

It commemorates a bloody war fought by the Jews against the Greeks over two
thousand years ago for the most obscure of religious motives. And it is the
only holiday that has become a custom to observe by everyone 'M'hadrin min
HaM'hadrin' namely in the strictest of the strict ways.

(It is only necessary to light one candle, even on the last night, for the
entire family. The stricter opinion says, one for each person. But the
strict of the strict says an increasing number of candles every evening for
each person, which is what we all do.)

Let us consider for a moment what really happened on that first Chanukah.

Approximately 2,500 years ago the Greeks, under Alexander the Great,
conquered the world and ruled it for several hundred years.

The success of Greek rule lay not only in their superior armed forces, but
in their 'superior' culture as well. They were as 'civilized' a bunch of
rulers as they come and their ideas of freethinking and free living held
them in the throne long after Alexander the Great died.

One of the prime examples of this is the manner in which they dealt with the
Jews and their Holy Temple. They did not destroy this center of Jewish
identity, as did the barbarian Babylonians or Romans before and after them,
rather they cleverly 'defiled' it according to the Torah definition of
defilement. The Greeks, you see, did not want to raze the 'Holy House' but
rather that the service therein be a bit more Hellenized and less intense;
to 'normalize' Judaism.

Similarly, they had no designs to exterminate the Jewish people, (as the
evil Haman tried to do some two hundred years earlier), rather they wanted
to reeducate them with 'superior' Greek intellect and progressive lifestyle.

In other words the Greeks wanted to do pretty much what most free thinking
'normal' Jews want today: Liberty, Fraternity and Equality. WHAT WAS SO BAD

Suddenly, as if from nowhere, appeared Yehuda 'Maccabee' Chashmonai and his
little band of zealot m'shugoyim (according to Rashi, Deut. 33:11, there
were only 13 of them) armed to the teeth, and began stabbing, and cutting up
the reasonable, civilized, 1000-times-stronger Greek conquerors! And the
whole thing caught on!! Suddenly even the most assimilated Jews (the vast
majority of the Jews back then) got into the spirit and either helped make
war or at least threw away their tickets to the arenas and theaters.

The Greeks soon understood that the times were changing and that they better
start packing. They were loosing battle after embarrassing battle, and even
worse, the Jews were going berserk! No one wanted to listen to a good
rational Greek idea anymore, and the bacchanals were almost completely

Exit the Greeks.

Next act: Setting: The empty Holy Temple.

Enter a garrison of victorious Jews swords drawn. As they realize there is
no enemy, they return them to their sheaths.

Shimon (the commander): Nu, we made it, men; we're back in the Mikdosh
again. Wow, the place is in pretty good order, in fact looks like they
didn't destroy anything.

Dovid (a soldier): Exactly the opposite, they destroyed everything, it's all
defiled! Here, look over here, in this storeroom, have a look at all these
vials of oil. Looks perfect, doesn't it, all they did was move or open every
bottle, didn't even spill a drop. They have extinguished the Holy Menora and
want us to light it with their defiled oil. Those dirty.

Reuvain (a soldier): Hey! watch your language, my friend, remember where you

But just a minute...hey...I remember a law that says...well, it's something
like the Pesach Offering, if a few people are defiled they have to wait a
month and make it up on 'Pesech Sheini' but if everyone is defiled they can
all make it in the right time. Same thing here, if we have no other choice
we can use defiled oil to light the menorah. We can...

Dovid: Forget it, buddy, if we wanted to start thinking like that we
wouldn't have been crazy enough to take on the entire Greek army in the
first place, would we? We are using pure oil and that's final. We're not.

Reuvain: O.K. O.K. But meanwhile all that we have is unclean. It seems that
we really don't have much of a choice, do we. Maybe we should...

One of the group: (on his knees from the corner of the room, he's been
rummaging: through the bottles) Hey, Hey! Look here! It's a miracle! A
miracle! Thank G-d! Thank you HaShem! Thank you! Thank you!! (Everyone
gathers around him. He is still on his knees looking up and weeping) Thank
you G-d! Thank yoooou!

Shimon: What's going on here, why is he crying? What is he pointing at? Good
G-d! It's a bottle that they must have missed. Hey don't touch it! It's
still sealed with the seal of the Great Cohen, it really is a miracle! Thank
G-d!! First, all those months of miraculous victories, and now this.Who is
mighty like you G-d!!!


But, to the disappointment of everyone, there was only one such bottle,
enough pure oil for only one day, and they needed eight days worth (that is
how long it took to purify the workers and to either bring or make new oil).

So oil was not lacking, there was plenty of impure oil, but these fanatics
insisted on using only pure oil. Also, there is no logical or perceivable
difference between pure and impure oil, the whole thing is only a Torah law
that is not even written explicitly in the Torah itself

But the rest is history. The pure oil miraculously burned for eight days
and the Jews had their Bait HaMikdosh and their independence for two hundred
more years.

So there we have it: There was plenty of oil for the lamp. There was no real
danger to anyone's life. The Jews were allowed to worship in the Temple and
do all their commandments even without the war. All the Greeks wanted were a
few concessions, a few reforms, co-existence; certainly nothing to risk ones
life about.

And that is how we got the holiday of Chanuka.

There are those who want to say that the Jews fought for independence them
and the miraculous victories were more for personal than religious freedom.
But if this were the case then why does the holiday stress the 'religious'
miracle and center around lighting little candles, (Remember also that the
Menorah was located in a room in the Temple that was accessible to only a
few priests, so almost no one actually saw the miracle of the oil anyway!)
why not more emphasis on the military victories?

The answer is that Chanukah is an 'exile' holiday. It was instituted by the
Rabbis when the Jews began suffering the darkness of exile after the
destruction of the first Temple in order to celebrate and encourage the
victory of Jewish Light over Greek Darkness.

Aristotle, the epitome of Greek thinkers, believed that there was no Creator
or beginning to creation. Being just always existed in some form or other.
Just as space seems to be infinite and we can't imagine a beginning or end
to the sky, so, he said, is true of time and all creation; it had no

Jewish thought, however, says the opposite: all being including time, space,
spirit and consciousness was created. It not only had a beginning but, even
more, it is constantly being created anew by G-d.

[The Talmud relates that the Greek ruler Ptolemy put 70 Jewish scholars into
70 separate isolated rooms and commanded each of them to translate the
entire five books of Moses into Greek. All 70 independently realized that a
literal translation would spell trouble for the Jews and each made
miraculously the same ten alterations. The first of these changes was in the
first sentence of the Torah; instead of translating "In the beginning,
created G-d the heavens and the earth." (Which could be misunderstood to
imply that The 'Beginning' created G-d), they wrote "G-d created the
beginning etc." so as not to strengthen the Greek position that G-d and all
the spiritual powers are but a product of nature. ]

Of course, no one can prove either side of the argument. No Jew observed the
creation and no Greek can explain how there was none. but the implications
of each belief are overwhelming.

If there is no Creator man is free and alone. There are no moral laws, only
natural ones: Pursue pleasure avoid pain.

But if there is a Creator then it could be that He cares. It could be that
there is a purpose to creation; perhaps the Torah is ultimate and binding
and man can't do whatever he wants.

But one thing for sure; Greek philosophy was a product of their personality.
The Greeks loved everything natural, especially the human body and mind.
They had their spiritual side and religions, to be sure. But their gods
were also a part of nature and were worshiped only for the physical
benefits; Luck, Power, Love, Health etc. they hopefully would bring to their

But Judaism is in many ways the opposite of Jewish personality. In fact the
nature of Jews is not far from that of the Greeks, that is why they welcomed
Hellenism.. But the Torah (and the Jewish soul hidden within each Jew)
regards Greek wisdom as darkness and selfish small-mindedness: to be a
prisoner of ones own mind, emotions and urges and deny the Creator's wisdom
is the greatest darkness possible.

And Jews don't like spiritual darkness. That is the Jewish identity. Even
the Reform or Reconstuctionist Jews don't want to loose the name 'Jew' or
their connection to G-d.

The story is told about a certain Jew by the name of Menashe that lived in
the Israeli town of Chevron during the terrible massacre of 1927. One
fateful Shabbat all he Arabs living in Chevron and it's surroundings turned
on their Jewish neighbors, after living with them in harmony for years, and
murdered as many of them as possible.

One of the Jews there, Menasha, was the 'black sheep' of the Jewish
community. He would ride his motorcycle through the town on the Shabbat,
cigarette between his teeth and his only friends were the local Arabs. As
for the Jewish community all he had to say was " I'm as good a Jew as they
are, who needs them."

On the terrible day of the massacre, armed Arabs came streaming in from all
the surrounding area. After they killed all the Jews in the streets, the
synagogues and the shops, they began going from house to house looking for
new sacrifices, and eventually they arrived at the house where Menasha was
sitting with his friends. "Who is he?" They asked, pointing to Menasha. "Oh,
he's one of us" they replied, and the murderers returned to the street and
turned to the next house. Suddenly, unexplainably Menasha ran out after them
and began screaming, "No, I'm a Jew! I'm a Jew!" They killed him.

The reason he did it is because each Jew has buried deep in his soul a small
bottle of pure, undefiled (and undefilable) 'oil'.

This 'oil' is the essence of the Jewish soul and its purpose is to make a
miraculous light. That is what we were "chosen" for; to illuminate the
entire creation with the awareness of the Oneness of G-d.

Every Jew senses this purpose in some way. Every Jew feels somewhere down
deep that he is different, that he somehow has an obligation to make a
difference; to bring some sort of good and meaning to the world. It may be
that he misinterprets this feeling or totally ignores it. It may take the
non-Jews around him to open his eyes or a Chabad house to wake him up but we
are promised by G-d that it will happen to every Jew. Every Jew will find
this bottle of pure oil and light his 'menorah' to bring blessing and light
to the darkness that surrounds us.

In fact this is the job of the Moshiach and the goal of Judaism: To awaken
the fire in every Jew and illuminate the world.

This explains, then, what happened on that first Chanukah and what happens
every Chanukah when millions of Jews all over the world light their
menorahs. Suddenly they feel proud and optimistic. M'hadrin min HaM'hadrin.

In the flames of their Chanuka Menorahs they can see the power of the Jewish
soul and the redemption of the Jewish people.

Wishing all our readers a happy, healthy, meaningful Chanukah filled with
the light and blessing. This Chanukah may we see the light of the real
menorah in the Third Temple built by....

Moshiach NOW!!

Rabbi Tuvia Bolton,
Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim.
Kfar Chabad, Israel.

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