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Chanukkah – For the sake of Heaven

What do you think of this idea? This year Chanukkah should be part of an ongoing theme – a theme that every living, breathing member of the entire human race, could not possibly have avoided being aware of, even in the slightest amount. What I was thinking was that this year we should celebrate the “Y2K Chanukkah.” Why not? This Y2K thing has covered just about every facet of life – you’ve got the Y2K bug, and the Y2K virus. Your ATM card might not work due to the “Y2K Banking glitch”! Of course, if it doesn’t, you might want to hit the bank with a “Y2K Lawsuit”! Wanna buy a car? Go to the “Y2K sales clearance event”! And unless you live in the mountains of Montana and have been stockpiling canned foods, kerosene lamps and back issues of Mountain Man magazine (Lifestyle magazine, for would-be Jewish mountain men) for months, you never know if it’s really safe to be in an elevator on the 34th floor or if the airline people are fully “Y2K compliant”! But in truth, any true Torah Jew knows in his heart, that this whole Y2K business is not about him. For he understands that more important than being “Y2K compliant” – trusting only in man’s ability to ward off and troubleshoot any potential crisis that may erupt when the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2000 – the true Jew is totally “Hakodosh Boruch Hu compliant”! The emunah and belief that every action, small and large, is wholly dependant on the will of Hashem, is an enduring precept of every Jewish home throughout the generations. When we strive to comply with every commandment, every instruction and lesson that Hashem imparts to us, when we truly become compliant with Hakodosh Boruch Hu, He will then maintain and protect us, feed and clothe us, and see to our every need.

On Chanukkah, we can take this ideal a step further. A Jew must be compliant with the will of Hashem – for the sake of Hashem. A person can do a mitzvah, perform it assiduously and still get it all wrong if he does so for any other reason than the fact that this is what Hashem wants of him. When ulterior motives are involved with the performance of a mitzvah, the special purpose and meaning of what he’s done, will backfire on him. This thought is never more true than during the period of time encompassing the years before and during the wars of the Chashmonaim. What we have all learned from grade school and on is that the Greek Hellenists enacted decrees forbidding the Jews from performing three crucial Mitzvos: Observance of Shabbos, Keeping track of the Jewish calendar through Rosh Chodesh, and performing the Bris Milah. By doing so, they hoped to cut off the life-blood of Jewish lifestyle and observance, to Hellenize and modernize the Jewish people from their antiquated customs and practices. This is all fine and good. But what we don’t realize is that all these decrees came much, much later, almost near the end of the entire Chanukkah story. Until then, the Greek authorities were more than happy to allow the Jewish people to follow their religious practices, actually they were even amenable to facilitate the observance of Torah and Mitzvos. They felt that Torah was something that needs to be beautified and since the Greeks – who are descendents of Noach’s son Yefes which means “beauty” – were well known for creating splendor and incredible visual beauty in their cities and homes, they took it upon themselves to, sort of, “fix up” the Torah and spice up the mitzvos – as they saw fit. This “Rehabilitation project” was, for them, not unlike the construction of a magnificent temple or writing a intellectual discourse in philosophy. At first, this was their intention with the ultimate goal, to induct the Jewish people into the folds of their modern ideas and “superior” civilization. After a short period of moderate success, however, they came to the realization that what fuels the Jewish nation was not so much their actions and practices, but more so, their thoughts and reasonings for these customs. A Greek does a good deed because it makes him feel good, it looks good on the resume, the boss is watching or whatever sinister thought possess him at that moment. Any way he can accomplish this and impress any on-lookers, score some brownie points with his mother-in-law perhaps, is his motive. A Jew, on the other hand, performs a mitzvah because this is the will of Hashem, his G-d. Whether he likes it or not, if people are watching or nobody’s around, he must do what he is commanded to do – for the sake of Heaven. This mind-set has enabled the pristine qualities of Torah observance to be passed down from one generation to the next, the ebb and flow of real, true Jewish life to exist in continuum, an unadulterated chain from Har Sinai to the present day.

The Greek Hellenists were not stupid. Socrates, Plato, the wise men of Athens – call them  misguided in their assessment of their own intellectual prowess, quacks with a pension for long-winded soliliquey – but definitely not stupid! They knew the secret of Jewish continuity and they set out to disrupt it. Don’t stop the Jews from performing their ritualistic customs, just alter their understanding of it. If the Jews can be made to believe that there exists a different understanding of the purpose of a mitzvah, they can also be made to modernize their practices to conform to Greek standards. Once this is accomplished, they won’t have any need for their antiquated customs and in the spirit of self-improvement will join the ranks of enlightened Hellenists.

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This attempt to break the chain of Torah for the sake of Heaven, is alluded to in the words we say in Al Hanissim – “L’Havirum M’chukei Ritzonecha” – To remove (the Jewish people) from the laws of your will. Not just simply remove and abolish the laws – the Jews wouldn’t go for that – rather take the “will of G-d” out of the equation and then the laws will be neglected on their own. But the Greeks underestimated the Chashmonaim and the effect they affected on the Jewish people. “Mi L’Hashem alai” – Who is for G-d come with me, was their battle cry, and with the knowledge that Hashem is on their side, fighting the good battle and protecting his beloved children, who observe the Torah for His sake, and His sake, alone, they headed into a battle that was totally one-sided. One-sided because with Hashem on their side – the Greeks didn’t stand a chance! Secure with the words of Torah on their lips and the will of Hashem on their minds, the Chashmonaim forged ahead and maintained the unbroken chain of religious observance through that difficult period of time.

We have a new perspective of the miracle of Chanukkah and the effect it holds on us till today. If not for the strength of the Jewish people to relinquish the lure of a frivolous lifestyle of grandeur and physical beauty, to turn away those t men of that era, allow us to continue on in their holy ways. So, rather than focus all of our attention on becoming fully “Y2K compliant”, we should realize that even being “Y2K compliant” is not full-proof for future success – unless you’re 100%, pure “Hakodosh Boruch Hu compliant!”


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