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Home » Chanukah

Chanukah: The Unbreakable Jewish Core

Submitted by on December 15, 2015 – 11:00 pmNo Comment | 968 views

The Seed

Chanukah is a festival saturated in oil so let’s ask an olive question. What is the most important part of the olive, the fruit or the seed? The fruit is beautiful and useful. It is filled with oil that can be extracted or it can be eaten as is. The seed, has no culinary or esthetic value. Yet, it contains the entire genome of the tree. If you plant it, a new tree will sprout. Seedless fruits don’t sprout, seeds do.

We learn from this that what is glamorous on the outside, is not necessarily powerful on the inside. Sometimes the greatest power is hidden in the simplest container.

Chanukah is a perfect example. Stop and ask yourself about the heroes of Chanukah. Passover had Moses, Purim had Esther and Mordechai, Yom Kippur had the High Priest in his sacred prime, all notable scholars and inspiring teachers. Who were the heroes of Chanukah?

Chanukah’s heroes were a bunch of warriors. There were no prophets with rousing sermons, there was no access to the inner sanctum, the holy of holies. There were only five powerful warriors, led by their pious father. On the surface they were unlikely leaders. They were not reputed for their scholarship or sanctity. They were priests barred from the temple. What qualified them to lead the nation?

It was not their spiritual value or scholarly abilities that galvanized the nation. It was their perfect faith. Like the seed, they weren’t glamorous on the outside, but their commitment and faith sprouted from their core.

The Era

It was a spiritually demoralizing time for the Jewish people. They had returned from Persia and rebuilt their Temple yet, they were beset by danger from within and without. The foreign notions of Hellenism had infiltrated and the Hellenists and their influence were on the rise. Add to that the external threat of the Syrian Greeks and their fanatical religious oppression and Jews in Israel were faced with spiritual extinction. The Greeks bolstered the Jewish Hellenists and the Hellenists supported the Greeks.

Greek culture and philosophy became popular. Jewish faith and Torah were regarded with scorn in many Jewish circles. The solution could not come from more Torah scholarship, when Torah itself was derided by so many. The only way to respond to this erosion of faith was with a burst of unfettered faith. That was what Matityahu and his Maccabean sons provided.

The spark of rebellion was ignited by faith. When the Maccabee fighters faltered in the face of the enemy’s overwhelming superiority, Yehuda rallied them with calls to faith rather than to arms. They did not place their trust in military genius nor did they rely on fire power. They relied wholly and completely on G-d. Such pure unadulterated faith roused the Jewish heart and inspired the masses.

In their faith, they grasped the essence of the Jew. Our hope and endurance, our survival and longevity, our spirit and strength, are all rooted in faith. Of that, the Maccabees were a perfect symbol.

One and Eight

We now understand why the numbers one and eight played such a large role in the Chanukah saga. A single cruise of oil lasted eight whole days. Not two cruises or three, not seven days or six. One cruise for eight days. One represents the apex of our soul that is indomitable and indefatigable. It is bright even in the darkness, it is warm even in the cold, it is sweet even in bitterness. Eight represents the supernatural. Creation spanned six days and Shabbat. Hence the week, the cycle of nature, is seven days whereas eight is the supernatural number.

The one cruise of oil representing the core of the Jewish soul, empowered us to overcome supernaturally the barriers formed by natural obstacles and survive our enemies yet again.

Light Up the Night

This helps us understand why the ritual of Chanukah is to light a candle. When faced with moderate challenges, the response is to address the challenge directly. But when faced with insurmountable challenge, the proper response is to focus on the light. Accentuate our unbreakable bond with G-d, highlight our faith in Him and strengthen the core of our spirit.

We don’t attempt to solve problems that we cannot overcome. Such challenges we leave to G-d. We make a herculean effort just like the Maccabees did with their ragtag army of fighters, but we don’t delude ourselves into thinking that we can solve the problem. We trust in G-d to save us.

Chanukah is about fortifying our faith with the undying light and unyielding strength of our core. When it is dark outdoors, we conjure up the warm enduring glow of our faith. We ignite the flame of our soul and allow it to light up our night.

The Psychologist

Rabbi Doctor Abraham J Twerski writes about[1] the dilemma of the psychologist who confronts a patient whose only problem is his inability to see that he is healthy. Doctors, wrote Twerski, learn anatomy for one year and spend the rest of their training in pathology. They are taught to look for and diagnose problems. But how do you diagnose the problem of those who have no problems and don’t know it?

He writes about the need to view the patient through different lenses and help them realize how healthy they actually are. You can’t solve what is not a problem and you can’t heal what is not an illness. But you can shine a light.

He used the example of the great escape artist Harry Houdini, who found himself stymied in a closed chamber, unable to pick the lock. After several minutes he leaned against the door and behold, it swung open. It turned out that the door had never been locked and you can’t unlock a lock that isn’t locked. You also can’t heal a patient that isn’t ill.

Jews on Chanukah faced the same conundrum. There was nothing wrong with their soul, their faith or their connection with G-d. They were just blinded by the allure of Hellenism and the trying persecution from their oppressors. The approach forward was therefore not to fight the darkness, but to shine the light of faith and spiritual endurance. They fought the Greeks and placed their trust in G-d. They hid in the caves, taught their children Torah and circumcised their young, all at grave to risk to life.

Once their unbroken core was aglow, the miracles began to unfold. Before long, the Menorah, symbol of the Jewish people, bore once again the pure and proud flame of Jewish eternity. [2]

[1] Let Us Make Man, by Abraham J Twerski, Traditional Press, January 1987.

[2] This essay is based in part on Torah Ohr, Miketz, p. 35a.

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