CHANUKAH IS COMING: Check out our new & improved Chanukah section, with

basic information on the holiday, laws & customs, Divrei Torah, even

recipes -- not to mention our famous On-Line Menorah!

http://www.torah.org/learning/yomtov/chanukah/

 

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Torah.org LifeLine - "It is a tree of life to all who cling to it."

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Volume XI, Number 9 - Chanukah

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ON THE WEB THIS WEEK @ <a href="http://www.torah.org/"> TORAH.ORG </a>:

 

 

GRATEFULLY YOURS: Why do we find it difficult sometimes to appreciate

others? http://www.torah.org/features/spirfocus/grateful.html

 

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This week's class is dedicated to the speedy healing of

Azriel Yitzchak ben Chaya Gitel.

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The holiday of Chanukah is often misunderstood. First of all, great as it

is, Chanukah is a minor, Rabbinic holiday on the Jewish calendar. An

excessive emphasis upon this holiday, accompanied by a near-total neglect

of major festivals like Shavuos and Sukkos, sends our children the message

that we're just trying to keep up with the non-Jewish world, and Jewish

holidays are but a pale facsimile of what they have. Chalila! [Heaven

forbid!]

 

But there is more to say.

 

Chanukah celebrates a redemption from destruction. Although there was a

military conflict, it did not become a holiday simply because we won a

physical war -- in fact, the war wasn't even over when the miracle of

Chanukah occurred. The true victory, and celebration, is spiritual.

 

Under the rule of Antiochus, the Greeks did not want to kill the Jewish

people. Rather, they wanted us to share their ideology. Our Sages explain

that they focused upon three mitzvos, commanding the Jews not to perform

them:

 

The first of these was the mitzvah of Shabbos, the Sabbath. The Greeks

believed that the earth and the universe had existed for all eternity.

They believed that there was no moment of Creation, no big bang. Yet the

Sabbath "is an eternal sign between Me and the Nation of Israel, that in

six days G-d made the Heaven and the Earth, and on the seventh day, He

rested." The Sabbath delivers the message that G-d Created the world -- so

the Greeks tried to kill the messenger.

 

The second was Milah, circumcision, which is the sign of the unique

covenant between G-d and the Jewish People, made with our forefather

Avraham. The Greeks wanted the Jews to be like them, rather than clinging

to antiquated notions of a special mission, purpose, and relationship. So

the Greeks needed to remove this sign as well.

 

And the third of these was Rosh Chodesh, the Sanctification of the New

Moon. The Sanhedrin, the Supreme Jewish Court in Jerusalem, would accept

testimony each month if people spotted the crescent of the new moon

appearing 30 days after the beginning of the previous month -- if this

happened, the new month would begin on that day, while if it did not, then

the month would begin on the morrow. This, too, signified a unique

relationship which the Greeks could not conscience -- because it indicated

the belief that we can control and change what happens in Spiritual

realms.

 

The Greeks also believed in a spiritual world; most of us have learned

small bits of Greek mythology. But they believed that what humans did had

no direct impact upon the spiritual plane.

 

The fact that human beings decide when the month begins means that human

beings control when the holidays arrive. Judaism regards the holidays not

merely as commemorations of past events, but as times when unique

"spiritual energies" return to the world each year. So this, too,

contradicted the fundamentals of Greek beliefs, and once again, the Greeks

needed to stop performance of this Mitzvah.

 

But finally, and above all, the Greeks also commanded us to stop studying

Torah. For as Rav Shlomo Brevda points out in his work on Chanukah,

"L'hodos U'l'hallel," the Greeks recognized that the Jewish religion was

fundamentally different than all the others, which were built upon certain

actions which were required or prohibited. Although the Torah contains

hundreds of different mitzvos, the very fundamental of Jewish life is

Torah study itself. Therefore the Greeks felt the need to issue a unique

decree, independent of their prohibition against the three particular

mitzvos mentioned above, to cut off Jewish life at its very root.

 

This is what we were fighting, this is the war which we won. And, of

course, it is so similar to the battle we are fighting today. People have

joked that the 614th Commandment is the one against assimilation, phrased

as "Thou Shalt Not Give Hitler (ysv"z, may his name and memory be blotted

out) a posthumous victory." Yet the truth is that the victory would not go

to him, but to Antiochus -- thousands of years after his own credo

disappeared into the dustbin of history.

 

The Code of Jewish Law notes that the Sages did not decree special meals

on Chanukah or anything of that nature -- for unlike Purim, which is

celebrated with food and drink, Chanukah is celebrated with special

praises and thanks to G-d. We respond to a threat of physical destruction

with a physical celebration; we respond to a threat of spiritual

destruction with a spiritual celebration.

 

Let us permit not only the image of the candles, but the message of

Chanukah, to burn its way into our hearts -- let us revitalize ourselves

and renew our study of Torah, for it is indeed the fundamental of all we

have. This is something we can and should do, right now -- for this is the

energy which Chanukah brings to us every year.

 

Good Shabbos, and a Happy Chanukah,

 

Rabbi Yaakov Menken

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