Thursday, December 18, 2014

Chanukah: A Religious Victory for the Purpose of a Full Jewish Life

By Zvulun Orlev
We have not yet figured out the precise formula for winning an election. The next experiment to determine such a formula will cost our country about two billion Shekels. From the point of view of the voters, a time of elections brings up thoughts about the purpose of having elections. Does our ballot really make any difference? Perhaps the reason that the fraction of eligible voters who take part in elections is constantly decreasing is related to the lack of thinking in this way. The results of our elections establish the character and the behavior of our country in all walks of life in a way that corresponds to the outlook and value systems of the parties which win, just as much as they also depend on the personalities of the elected officials (honesty, morality, remaining true to their own platforms, and so on).
Why Have a Festival?
Today we will share with you some thoughts about the proximity of the coming elections and Chanukah. The following passage in the Talmud is very well-known. "What is Chanukah? When the Greeks entered the Temple they defiled all the oil in the Sanctuary. When the kingdom of the Chashmona'im gained the upper hand and was victorious, they searched and found only one small vial of oil that still had the seal of the High Priest, and it had only enough oil to burn for one day. However, a miracle occurred, and they were able to light the Menorah for eight days. The following year this was established as a holiday, with praise and thanks." [Shabbat 21a]. According to the Talmud, the miracle was that they were able to find a vial of oil that burned for eight days, so that they could renew the holy service in the Temple. However, in the "Al Hanissim" prayer we emphasize the military success, the victory of a few against many. Is there a conflict between these two issues?
At first glance it would seem that the symbols of the holiday emphasize the reason given in the Talmud. The name Chanukah, meaning a dedication, is related to the Altar and not to the military victory. The holiday lasts for eight days, the time of the miracle of the oil, and it is not just one day in which Hallel is recited, as is the case with Purim, Yom Haatzmaut, and Yom Yerushalayim. The special Torah sections that are read are the sacrifices brought by the leaders of the tribes for the dedication of the Tabernacle. And the Haftarah on Shabbat of Chanukah discusses the Temple. We may well ask: Why did the sages emphasize the miracle of the oil more than the military victory? As noted, this question is even stronger in view of the text of "Al Hanissim," which describes the victory and mentions the oil only in passing. In short: Does the holiday of Chanukah celebrate the liberation from the yoke of the Greeks or the miracle of the vial of oil?
The Ultimate Objective: The Temple
The Maharal writes: "Specifically this miracle was performed (with a vial of oil and not something else) because the main evil of the Greeks was that they defiled the Sanctuary... And the blessed G-d gave strength to the Chashmona'im, who were priests serving G-d in His Sanctuary, and they were therefore the ones who were victorious and not anybody else." [Insights in the Aggadot of Shabbat]. From his words we can see that the dedication and the loyalty to the objective of the war, which was the purification of the Temple and the restoration of its sanctity, is what gave the Chashmona'im, who were priests, their great strength and led to victory. The reason for the victory was their dedication to the concept of sanctity.
The Meshech Chochma notes that Judaism purposely does not celebrate military victories and only marks the release from the yoke of the Gentiles. This is also evident on Purim, which is celebrated on the day when the Jews rested from the battles and not on the day when the fighting took place. And with respect to Chanukah too, the sages have taught us to pay attention mostly to the Temple and less to the military victories.
The following appears in "Assufat Maarachot" (a collection of essays by Rabbi Chaim Goldvicht, the founder and Rosh Yeshiva of the Hesder Yeshiva in Kerem B'Yavneh): "There is an internal link which connects between the conquest of the Greeks and the dedication of the Temple – between salvation and sanctity, between the military/political aspects and spiritual success." That is: the goal of the victory was not simple political achievements but mainly an attempt to renew the holy service in the Temple. The rededication of the Temple was the main goal of the battles, not merely military victory. The people did not win in war and then rest, they won a battle in order to achieve a higher level of holiness.
The salvation and the sanctity brought back the national independence as a means to establish significant Jewish life. Thus, the success was a miracle that overcame the Greek attempt "to make them forget their Torah and to take then away from the laws of Your Torah" [Al Hanissim]. It is written in the Book of the Maccabees: "And Yehuda said to his brothers: Behold, we have vanquished our enemies, let us rise up to purify the Temple... And they set up the dedication of the Altar for eight days, and they happily offered Olah Sacrifices and brought Shelamim and Todah Sacrifices... And Yehuda and his brothers and the entire community of Yisrael established that the days of the dedication of the Altar shall be celebrated every year as a holiday, for eight days from the twenty-fifth of Kislev, a joyous time."
The sages viewed military victory and political independence as secondary to the rededication of the Altar and the Temple. Victory and independence were seen as a means to achieve the main objective of reinstituting proper Jewish life. This is the message of the sages for all generations. In our generation too we must remember and remind the people and the parties who are running in the elections just what the main goal of the State of Israel is. Election Day is more of a test of the voters than it is a test of the candidates. On this day of reckoning, it is imperative for us to support those whom we can be sure will act out of a conviction that the creation of the State of Israel is a renewal of the full significance of sanctity and Jewish life in our nation and in our land.

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