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Spiritual Growth for Jews

The 60 Second Guide to Chanukah

Posted on | November 26, 2013 | By Mark Frankel | 7 Comments

The Battle of the Spiritual vs the Physical
To understand any Jewish Holiday it is helpful to restate the foundation of Judaism, which is that there is a G-d, who is completely spiritual who created a world with physical and spiritual parts. Man is the only creation with both a spiritual side (the soul) and a physical side (the body). The Jewish people’s role is to lead mankind to an integration of the physical into the spiritual. We accomplish that by filling our lives and the world with G-d focused thoughts, speech and actions.

Physical Orientation of the Greeks

After the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, the presence of G-d in the world was much less evident. Even though the temple was rebuilt, man’s spiritual awareness of G-d was greatly diminished in the Second Temple period. Concurrent with the diminishment of G-d awareness was the rise of Greek thought and culture with its focus on man and the physical universe.

The Spiritual Battle Against the Jews
The initial conflict of Chanukah pitted Jews who had assimilated into Greek culture and abandoned all spiritual orientation, against Jews still focused on the Jewish mission of integrating the spiritual into the physical. Eventually the Greek government joined the anti-spiritual fight and the Talmud mentions three decrees: no Shabbos because it is a testimony that G-d created the physical world, no Bris Milah because it signifies that even the most physical aspect of man must have a spiritual orientation, and no declaration of the new month (Rosh Chodesh) because it shows that even time is spiritually sanctified by the Jews.

The Military Victory
A small group of Jews decided to fight against the Greek spiritual oppression. Although badly outnumbered, the spiritually oriented Jews led by Mattisyahu eventually succeeded in expelling the Greeks from Jewish areas in Israel and from the Temple in particular. The fact that the victory was a miracle was not overwhelmingly apparent, because it sometimes happens that the weak overpower the strong in military battle.

The Miracle of the Oil

When the Jews reclaimed the temple they wanted to perform the temple’s daily Menorah lighting with spiritually pure oil, which would take eight days to prepare. They found one container of sealed purified oil which would last for only one day. They lit it and it miraculously burned for eight days. It was thereafter instituted that every Jewish home should light candles for the eight days of Chanukah in celebration of this miracle and our success in defeating our spiritual enemies.

Appreciating Miracles
The Hebrew word for miracle is Nes which means a sign. A miracle is a sign that there is a force beyond nature, namely G-d. Although G-d is in reality always present, He is often hidden in our world. In fact the Hebrew word for world is Olam, comes from the same root as the Hebrew word for hidden: the physical world hides the presence of G-d. When we learn about the spiritual realities of G-d’s world or do spiritual acts such as lighting the Chanukah Menorah we increase the G-d awareness in ourselves and in the world and continue to march towards the fulfillment of the Jewish people’s spiritual mission.


7 Responses to “The 60 Second Guide to Chanukah”

  1. micha
    November 26th, 2013 @ 11:29 am

    I think we need to be more nuanced. Greek-ness isn’t a bad thing. As Noach blessed his sons, “יַפְתְּ אֱלֹקִים לְיֶפֶת, וְיִשְׁכֹּן בְּאָהֳלֵי שֵׁם — Hashem gave beauty to Yefes, and dwells in the homes of Sheim.” (Bereishis 9:26) And Yefet’s grandson Yavan, the ancestor of the Greeks (from whom the Ionians’ name is derived), is generally considered the epitomy of that beauty. Based on this verse, Rabbi Shim’on ben Gamliel (the nasi in the last days of the Temple) uses this verse to explain why he holds that scripture is only holy if written in Hebrew or Greek.

    The question isn’t Sheim vs. Yefes, or Torah vs. Beauty, but what relationship one puts them in.

  2. Mark Frankel
    November 26th, 2013 @ 11:46 am

    R’ Micha, I focused on the Greek attempt to eradicate spirituality. Do you think the Greeks had a spiritual G-d centered orientation?

  3. micha
    November 26th, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

    Rather, I would say they were given the aesthetic tools to move someone emotionally, which we descendents of Sheim are supposed to harness in a “spiritual G-d centered” way. It wasn’t so much disagreement on my part as my pointing out that “even the most physical aspect of man must have a spiritual orientation” is about utilizing Yefet’s gifts as a tool, not rejecting them altogether. There is a bit more us-vs-them tenor to your writing than is consistent with the message, so I wanted to spell it out.

  4. Steve Brizel
    November 26th, 2013 @ 6:43 pm

    While there are various views re the translation of Tanach into Greek, the fact remains that there is a Taanis recorded in Shulchan Aruch for that event, and the negative views re Judaism and Hewish practice as recorded by Greco-Roman intellectuals cannot be denied. One cannot deny the fact that Greek mythology, Lahvdil VElef Alfei Havdalos, had a very different view of man’s role in the world than the Torah. Moreover, Chazal went out of their way in numerous places to critique Galus Yavan and its adverse impact on Jewish continuity for all ages.

  5. Mark Frankel
    November 26th, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

    Micha, I agree with using Yefet’s tools, but I don’t think the classic commentators are as generous as you are in the assessment of the Greeks.

  6. Steve Brizel
    November 26th, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

    As Mark pointed out, if one listens to the linked shiur, as well as if one sees in many Baalei Machshavah, who quote many ancient sources, it was hardly an accident that the Selucid Greeks and their sympathizers had a special hostility to three mitzvos that expressed Jewish continuity-Shabbos, Milah and Kiddush HaChodesh,

  7. Steve Brizel
    November 26th, 2013 @ 6:49 pm

    It warrants pointing out that the ancient Greeks and Romans despised the idea of Shemiras Shabbos, viewed Bris Milah as an attack on man’s perfect body, and saw Kiddush HaChodesh as a threat to their cultural hegemony by the Jewish insistence on their own calendar so as to properly observe the Moadim. The idea of handywork between Shem and Yefes clearly would have been nice if it worked out, but the insistence of the Selucids on cultural and religious supremacy cannot be denied.

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