Posted on | December 13, 2006 | By Avrahom-Moishe Erlenwein | 20 Comments
We are all familiar with the story of Chanukah – how the Greeks wanted to subvert Jewish life by injecting it with Greek values. Unlike Purim where Haman wanted to destroy the Jewish body as well as obliterate any remnant of Torah learning and mitzvah observance, the Greeks had a much more seemingly innocuous approach – “No, go ahead – learn your Torah, observe your mitzvos, pray to your Jewish G-d but do it with a Greek twist – do it because it makes intellectual sense. As we say in our prayers “to forget Your Torah, Your statutes….”. This was epitomized by the Greeks desire to contaminate all of the oil in the Temple – rendering it halachically permissible for lighting the menorah but defiled nonetheless.
This seemingly insignificant subtlety created a transformation within the masses of Jewry and produced Jews that traded the hallmarks of Jewish identity – Jewish names, Jewish clothing and Jewish speech (which by these distinctions our Jewish ancestors had merited “Yetzias Mitzriyim” [the Exodus from Egypt]) for Greek names, Greek clothing and the Greek language– Hellenists. What began as an enlightened embracement of “modernism” ended in outright idolatrous worship. It was only through the miracle of the “poc shemen” [the Chanukah oil] that brought our nation back from the brink.
Yet how many of us consider that we may have fallen for the same innocuous approach right here in present day America?! While America is a “madina v’maluchus shel chesed” [a nation and government of kindness] where Jews openly and freely live Judaism, its values and cultural message are the same as the former Greek Empire – be a modern Jew; be an American Jew [as opposed to a Jewish American]. You can go to the movies, watch television with theater sound on high definition 36 inch plasma screens, surf the net, go on kosher cruises, choose family planning, have both spouses pursue full-time yet dynamic careers and provide our children with the “best of the best” secular education – yet still be a Torah learning, mitzvah observant Jew.
What seems as pareve [neutral] pursuits are in reality pipelines by which American culture and values are fed to contaminate our Jewish sensibilities. What is the result? An American Hellenist: a transformation of the Jewish masses with names like Joe instead of Yoseph, Abe instead of Avrahom; mall bought fashion that is borderline tznius [modesty] that even when it meets all halachic requirements – still pales to the majestic elegance of women’s “hemishe” [Jewish made] clothing, casual speech instead of refined words permeated with Torah values that befit a prince or princess of Hashem.
This isn’t advocating a shtetl [a ghetto] mentality. It is no coincidence that this years Chanukah spans Parshas Vayeishev – Mikietz. Yoseph was the only one of Yaakov’s twelve sons with the appellation of “Yoseph HaTzadik”. While his brothers were tzadikim – they were shepherds able to spend their time in isolation and in contemplation of Hashem. Yoseph distinguished himself in his avodas Hashem by being in the heart of the moral depravity of Egypt, glamour of Egyptian aristocracy and potential drunkenness of ultimate power yet maintained his distinction as a Torah Jew.
We do not have to be tzadikim – we just have to be like the Menorah – “a light unto the nations”. By full Jewish names, truly modest dress and words of Torah; by being “un-plugged” from American entertainment/media while immersing ourselves in more Torah learning and mitzvos b’hiddur [performed with the highest of standards] – we can walk among our fellow Americans yet still radiate G-dliness and inspiration; in the world, yet above the world. By having our Jewish purity intact like the “poc shemen” – we look to light every person, place and moment with “…and the pursuit of the world will be knowledge of Hashem”.