Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Miketz) Happy Chanukah!
Greek culture was very much into beauty; the arts, architecture, and the human body. The physique, self engrossment and the pursuit of instant gratification were their main interests and goals.
When the Greeks gained control over the Land of Israel, their focus was to convert the Jews to follow their idolatrous gods, adapt to their philosophies and embrace their decadent culture.
The Greeks also took control of our Temple in Jerusalem and turned it into a place of pagan worship. They set up an idol in the Holy of Holies, the most sanctified area, and offered a pig on the holy altar. They defiled and ritually contaminated all the holy items in the Temple.
The Greeks also instituted laws banning the Jews from observing the Shabbos, circumcising their children, and not allowing them to establish the Hebrew months - which meant the holidays, which are set according to the Hebrew months, and so could not be properly observed.
We may ask: What about these specific observances irked the Greeks?
Perhaps these laws were diametrically opposed to Greek culture. As we mentioned, the Greeks were into the now. They needed everything to give them instant results and gratification. Judaism was a thorn to their culture because in Judaism things just don’t happen right away. There is a schedule and timetable when things are observed and performed.
If we examine the laws they banned (by pain of death) we find a common denominator; all have a set time for them to be observed. The holy day of Shabbos comes every seventh day and requires a good deal of food preparation; the Bris of a baby boy can only be performed on (or after) the eighth day of his life; the holidays must be observed on specific days of the month.
These Mitzvos cannot be performed whenever one feels like it; they require days, weeks and months of anticipation, preparation and enthusiasm.
The Greeks were trying to deprive the Jews of their special element and asset; the art of yearning, thinking about and anticipating the time to observe G-d’s commands.
The Greeks knew what they were doing, because when one’s focus is on the now and the instantaneous they begin to lose patience and interest in something that they have to earn and wait for.
Additionally, a common theme among the observances the Greeks forbade is that they are all associated with happiness and spiritual joy.
The Greek wanted the Jews to refocus and reallocate their feelings of joy and happiness to the Greek way of living and lifestyle.
Many Jews adapted to the Greek’s way of life, while others remained steadfast to the traditions.
It is interesting that there is no remembrance of those who gave in to the Greeks, while thousands of years later we remember the names of the devoted and daring Maccabees – Mattisyahu and his five sons, Yochanan, Shimon, Yehuda, Elazar and Yonason — who with a relatively small army waged war against the massive and powerful Greek army. They were miraculously successful in defeating the Greeks and reclaiming the Temple. Their memories are eternally etched in the fabric of the Chanukah celebration.
Immediately, the Maccabee’s began working on salvaging the Temple, purifying it from the idolatrous residue. They were driven to reinstate kindling the daily Menorah – candelabra in the Temple. Under the circumstances they were in, they were permitted to use ritually impure oil for the Menorah. However, as zealous as they were to kindle the Menorah, they meticulously and patiently searched and even sifted though the earth with a complete yearning to perform and observe the Mitzvah of the Menorah with the highest level of purity and quality. This endurance and patience paid off, for they finally found one flask of oil that retained the seal of the High Priest that had enough to last for just one night. They kindled the Menorah, and miraculously G-d made there be enough oil to light the Menorah for eight days – enough for them to procure additional pure oil.
Had they settled for using the available impure oil, we wouldn’t be celebrating the Holiday of Chanukah, because no miracle with the oil would have occurred.
Thus we see that patience, yearning and perseverance to fulfill our traditions is a key element for the endurance of Judaism and with this type of persistence, we will merit seeing signs that G-d makes miraculous and wondrous things happen in our lives.
Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks