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Home » Chanukah, Education, Miketz

Chanukah: Naturally in Love with G-d

Submitted by on December 18, 2011 – 2:04 amNo Comment | 1,266 views

The Split

I once asked an audience to tell me which historical factor contributed most to our continuity and one fellow insisted that the correct answer was anti-Semitism. When the nations reject us we have no choice, but to turn inward. When the nations befriend and accept us we tend to blend into the global culture and dilute our own culture. The problem is that once we sacrifice our culture on the altar of globalism we lose our identity and without that there is little to keep our children involved.(1)

The story of Chanukah demonstrates this truth. About a century and a half before the Common Era Israel was under occupation by Syrian Greeks, who sought to impose their culture on our people. Sadly there was no intersection between the cultures of Hellenism and Torah, which left Jews with only two options: Assimilate into Hellenism or fight for Judaism on pain of death.

Indeed, the Jewish people split into two camps. There were those, who succumbed to the Greek overtures and assimilated and those who maintained allegiance to Torah Judaism. The Greeks treated Jewish Hellenists with friendship and granted them all kinds of freedoms. The Torah idealists, however, were persecuted by the Greeks and were forced to take refuge in the Judean Hills.

The split experience of our people at that time is emblematic of our history. When persecuted by others we tend to coalesce into a single unit and strengthen our bonds with G-d. When we enjoy prosperity and freedom we loosen the reins of our discipline, water down our commitment and soon thereafter assimilate.

Back To Chanukah

The observant camp eventually organized an army under the leadership of Judah the Maccabee. They engaged the enemy and miraculously defeated the larger Greek army. Returning to the Temple they found only one jar of unblemished olive oil with which to light the candelabra. There was enough oil for one night, but the candles would burn miraculously for eight days.

This miracle is the focus of our Chanukah celebration as we kindle lights for eight days. Our sages taught that the olive is a symbol for the Jew under oppression. Just as the olive produces its purest oil only when it is squeezed so do Jews elicit their purest dedication when they are squeezed. (2) By performing a miracle with the oil G-d seemed to be sending a message that championed those

who chose oppression over Hellenism and loyalty over freedom. It was a Divine proclamation that their focused dedication had produced a bright and enduring spiritual energy that overcame its natural constraints and illuminated the night eight consecutive times.

The Olive and the Oil

King David’s wrote, “Your children are like planted olives around your table.” (3) We understand the symbolism of olive oil as explained above, but what does the olive symbolize?

The Talmud has a curious quote about the olive. “Eating an olive,” says the Talmud, “causes one to forget the Torah that one has known for seventy years, but drinking olive oil restores this Torah knowledge.” (4) Olives are free and whole, but olive oil emerges from a crushed olive. According to our earlier discussion this means that conditions of freedom can trigger neglect of Torah even after seventy years of study and observance, but when we are oppressed our connection with G-d is restored.  If this is the case it begs an obvious question, why did King David choose the negative metaphor of olives rather than that of oil?

The olive obviously has a positive property in addition to its negative dimension for which reason David singled it out.

The olive is unique in that no other tree is grafted onto it because the hybrid produced by an olive and any other fruit is inferior to the pure olive. This is precisely like the Jew because though the Jew assimilates under conditions of prosperity, this is not the natural state of the Jew. naturally in love - innerstreamJews are by nature conditioned to remain loyal to Judaism and not intermarry or assimilate; we are naturally in love with G-d. Jews know that despite the glittering opportunities that the world offers, nothing compares to the dearest and highest values that are found in the Torah. Only the Jew was chosen to serve G-d through the Torah and only the Jew was chosen to serve as a light to the nations and this cannot possibly be substituted by anything else. (5) (6)

The olive thus has a dual message. On the one hand it is free and unencumbered, reflecting the kind of conditions that entice one to the forbidden and the non-kosher. (7) On the other hand, even the olive knows that it was neither designed nor intended to be grafted onto others. The olive remains alone. Unique.  Above the pinnacle of all that is exalted.

A Loving Education

If the olive’s character is in the Jew’s nature why do we so often assimilate under conditions of freedom?  It is because this nature is deeply embedded and must be nourished to be brought forth. How is this accomplished? How do we empower our children to enjoy Shabbat dinner when their favorite cartoon is on TV? What inspires our teenagers to opt for the Passover Seder on the night that Major League Baseball plays its opening game? What enables us to celebrate the lone Chanukah flame, when the glamorous and more colorful lights beckon outdoors?

King David enlightens us with the end of his statement, “Your children are like planted olives around your table.” When our children are raised around our table, a Jewish table that is kosher, holy and G-dly, they are like olive branches, which do not graft. If our homes are filled with love, warmth and devotion, if our children discern in us a passion for G-d and Torah, they will absorb it too. Their principles rooted in a sacred foundation that wavers in no storm.

If they are raised at our table, they will be olive branches. If they know that there is always a place for them at our table and a home for them in our hearts, if they discern the love, dedication and passion for G-d that permeates our very beings they will not be swayed by what’s beyond Judaism. Despite the temptations, they will remain true to their inborn nature, committed to their faith and dedicated to their tradition. (8)

The most obvious example was Joseph, who was appointed viceroy of Egypt. Joseph had every opportunity to break with his family’s tradition and embrace Egyptian culture, practice and faith, but he didn’t. Despite the acclaim, gratitude and appreciation he would have garnered Joseph remained a Jew. He was alone with his principles, alone in his practice, alone in his faith, but he never wavered. (9) (10)

Footnotes

  1. In June of 1967 Jews across the world trembled with
    fear for our country was in peril. An unprecedented unity gripped the
    Jewish world as they streamed to the Synagogue in droves. This powerful
    unity sadly unraveled shortly after the war. The split between our
    factions asserted themselves once again and we quickly turned divisive.
    The story is told that when Napoleon invaded Russia in the 18th century
    Jewish rabbis were undecided which outcome would be better for the Jews.
    If Napoleon would defeat the Czar, enlightenment, freedom and tolerance
    would arrive to Russia, which would benefit the material and financial
    standing of the Jews, but it would also threaten the pure and single
    minded focus of the Russian Jew to Torah.
  2. Babylonian Talmud, Menachot 53b.
  3. Psalms 121
  4. Babylonian Talmud, Horayot 13b.
  5. This is encapsulated by the Talmudic dictum,” just
    as there is no grafting an olive so is there no inferior property in
    [the nature of Israel.” Jerusalem Talmud, Kilayim 5:7.
  6. This is in addition to the Midrashic Dictum (Shemot
    Rabbah 36:1 “Just as oil doesn’t mix with liquids so do Jews not mix
    with the nations.” This statement is not surprising since it discusses
    oil, which is the metaphor for a Jew in suffering and we already know
    that the best of the Jew comes out when squeezed. What makes the
    Jerusalem Talmud statement unique is that it claims that even the olive,
    which represents the Jew in times of freedom, is also designed by
    nature to remain unencumbered.
  7. This is indicated by the fact that the olive is sour whereas its oil is not.
  8. Note the statement in the Zohar (III p. 126b) “Just
    as the olive remains on its branch despite the storms of winter and the
    heat of summer and emerges as a precious fruit… so are the children of a
    modest woman.”
  9. Today, once again, we are fortunate to live in
    conditions of prosperity and acceptance. While it is true that
    intermarriage and assimilation have reached record numbers it is also
    true that we are in an unprecedented era of Torah study and observance.
    Since the beginning of our Diaspora, there have never been as many
    Academies of higher Torah learning and as many strictly observance Torah
    Jews.
  10. This essay is based in part on a talk delivered by
    the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory on the 15th of Shevat,
    5732.
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