Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Lesson of Chanukah

By HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Beit El

Dedicated to the memory of Hana Bat Haim

Chanukah is a time of praise and thanksgiving to God for the miracles and wonders that He performed on behalf of our ancestors "in those days at this time." It is also a time to reflect upon and learn from the great events which happened in those days. We are called upon to consider how it was that the Jews managed to persevere in the face of the great crises which befell them.

The Greek adversary was set on eradicating the faith of the Jewish people. The Hellenist juggernaut strove to expung our Divine heritage. Greek pressure grew until it was unbearable. The majority of Jews were unable to withstand it. Resistance was slowly warn down. Many became tired of the prolonged struggle on behalf of the religion of Israel. They could not bear being repudiated by the nations because of their unique faith. The people could not withstand the isolation, animosity, and bloodshed which resulted from their refusing to be like other nations. They said, "Must we forever face the sword? No more war! No more bloodshed! Enough separatism! Let us be like the rest of the nations! Let us stop being different and despised!" They reasoned that the sanctity of life should take priority over ancient beliefs and customs.

Poets sprung up who preached peace and brotherly love. Thinkers and ideologists arose who set about uprooting whatever set us apart and made us distinct from the Gentiles. They disparaged the Sabbath and Jewish circumcision, and they began to devote themselves to Greek gods and Greek culture. They waged war on any matter that even resembled Judaism.

Part of the nation had for some time felt closer to the the Gentiles than to their Jewish kinsmen who continued to cling to the Torah and its precepts. They forged a common language with the non-Jews, and came to despise their fanatical brethren who were destroying all hope of peace and appeasement and any chance of a creating a "new Middle East."

There were those who warned against assimilation, but their cries fell upon deaf ears. In addition to being a minority, they were plagued by inner quarrels. Every religious circle rejected the others. The nation was split and splintered. The Greeks took advantage of the situation and pressed us to abandon our faith.

This was the situation until a single brave elder arose, filled with the spirit of faith and self-sacrifice. He raised the banner of the faith of Israel and cried, "Whoever is for God, join me!" He united the nation's divided spiritual forces and awakened the inner spark which, though it existed all along, had been long covered over.

A feeling of spiritual rejuvenation and purpose gripped the people. The nation rose up, liberated its land, and restored sovereignty in Israel - a sovereignty that was to endure for the next two hundred years. The Jewish people purified the Holy Temple, regained their spiritual health, and returned to the service of God and the fulfillment of His precepts. A single great individual armed with an unbending faith was able, with God's help, to achieve all this.

This, then is the lesson to be learned from Chanukah: a sudden spiritual revolution is entirely possible, and it can even be sparked by a single individual.

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