10 December 2009

The secret of a shortage

Ancient Greece had everything: the arts, the sciences, philosophers, etc. except for one thing. Something was missing and they were trying in vain to wrest from the Jewish people the secret of whatever it was they, the Greeks, were lacking.

What did the Greco-Syrian civilization want from the Jews? It was not that they wanted for the Jews to vanish, nor did they clamor to seize the Holy Land. The main objective was different: to replace the pure Jewish faith with surrogate rational thinking. That is why the Greeks did not destroy the Temple nor break oil-containing vessels. They had only defiled everything they could.


Other conquerors - the Babylonians, the Romans – went down in history as destroyers of the Jerusalem Temple but not the Greeks. They did not engage in plunder or murder. They were not even planning to interfere with the lighting of the Temple menorah (though they could have easily destroyed all the oil supplies).

Moreover, the Sages of the Talmud point out that they seemed to have had purposely moved the olive oil from the adjacent rooms and placed in the Holy chamber, where the menorah stood, and it was there that they destroyed the seals guaranteeing ritual fitness and purity of the oil.

This was as if in order to say: “here is the oil, only now in unsealed jars, but this is so trivial, just an unnecessary detail. Go ahead, light the menorah! Why tear down the Temple? Continue coming to the Temple; even keep up your Torah studies - no problems. Just don’t lay claims to holiness and uniqueness. From now on, the oil in the jars will not be holy, Torah study will be deprived of its divine foundation, and the Temple building will be useful to the community, approved by the Greek Ministry of Culture.” This is how the Greeks saw the bright future of the Jewish people.

Temptations of Hellenic culture gradually ripped the Jews away from the religion of their fathers; pagan schools, pagan festivals, and performances in honor of the Greek gods drew the weak in faith, power in the country had been seized by a clique of hard-core Hellenists who, by force or through promises, were pulling people to apostasy, their influence kept growing while the spiritual level of the Jewish people kept falling.

G-d - fearing Jews devotedly clung to the faith of their ancestors, but there were plenty of those who were more and more inclined to follow the Greek ways and paganism.

The chain of religio-moral values is inseparable. And as soon as there is a slack, problems begin to crop up at the level of physical survival.

Over his five years rule, Antiochus managed to profane everything sacred to the Jewish people, he banned Temple services, placed an idol there, and flooded Judea with blood - tens of thousands of Jews were killed and thousands grabbed and sold into slavery. And there was no other choice: either to perish or die spiritually in paganism. However, the response of the Jews to the Greeks was a lot of miracles-paradoxes.

It turned out that logic and rationality of the Greek-Syrian mentality lost the battle. The emphasis on the strong and agile body was a miserable failure. The numerical superiority of the Greek army, the presence of elephants and guns, threatening military marches and excellent ammunition resulted in a clumsy farce which ended in an inexplicable defeat. The Jews won. How and why is unclear. God showed that he loves his children, seemingly weak and militarily unskilled, devoid of body armor and helmets, but safeguarding their own spiritual, subtle, astral purity that eluded a rational explanation. Some Olympic games these turned out to be….

And so we, in our generation, greet Hanukkah not with pompous feasts but with the delicate flame of a candle. Parents decide to send their children to Jewish schools. Women decide to go to the mikvah. Men promise to participate in minyans in the synagogue. A relay of the traditional torch... a torch of Jewish tradition... continues... into eternity.

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