As Chanukah draws to a close I am recalling one of my earliest Chanukah memories as a chanich in Bnei Akiva, an invitation from my madrichim to attend the Chanukah Ball. In the invitation we were asked to make detailed preparations, such as choosing the music for the event, making the decorations, and coming to the event dressed in our best clothes.
On the day of the ball our madrichim greeted us with stern faces. They proceeded to criticize us for engaging so enthusiastically for a Chanukah ‘Ball’, which in essence is a symbol of the Greco-Western culture, at a festival which celebrates the victory of the spiritual over the physical.
However if we look back at the history of Ancient Greece, we see that it was not just the exaltation of the human body, the physical and the earthly that sat at the heart of Greek existence, rather also the great philosophers such as Aristotle and Socrates contributed to the splendor of Greek culture. Indeed, the original Western philosophers are direct descendants of the great spiritual culture of Ancient Greece.
In his book Moadei Hareiah, Rav Neriah zt”l (whose 20th Yahrzeit was commemorated last week), highlights Rav Kooks explaination for the roots of the cultural war that we mark at Chanukah. The Greek concept encompassed two separate goals; man was called to choose between developing the physical world and the body or, conversely, disengaging totally from the physical world and concentrating fully on spiritual matters.
Judaism challenges this understanding and looks to connect the spiritual to the physical, the heavens to the earth, the lofty spiritual worlds to the daily routine of desires and passions.
The Greek decrees at the time of the Maccabees were aimed at precisely the areas where Judaism called for the connection between the physical and the spiritual. They decreed against the holy Shabbat, celebrated through worldly delights; they decreed against Brit Mila, which involves making a covenant with God at the most physical place possible; and they decreed against every man and woman trying to create a house and family together.
Interestingly, it was the priestly Hasmoneans who led the physical fight against the Greeks. They weren’t a group of specially-trained fighters who prepared for war, but rather they served each day in the Beit Hamikdash and at the time of war led the troops in battle.
Rabbi Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin, in his work Pri Tzaddik, brings the interesting question of why we don’t ask G-d on Pesach to once again perform miracles for us “in those days, at this time”, as we say in the ‘Al Hanisim’ prayer? When we came out of Egypt, we experienced great miracles that broke the laws of nature such as the Ten Plagues and the Splitting of the Sea – so why don’t we ask for them to be done again, as we do on Chanukah and Purim?
Rabbi Tzadok answers that miracles that occur naturally are greater than miracles that break the laws of nature. The generation that left Egypt, in their precarious spiritual state of being at the 49th level of impurity, were not able to appreciate natural miracles. Therefore, G-d overhauled the rules of nature for them to enable them to believe in miracles.
However the Chanukah miracle was one of a victory of the few against the many. It was undoubtedly a miracle, yet it came naturally through the initiative of the Hasmoneans who started and led the rebellion and dedicated their lives to fighting for the nation’s independence. It started with the Hasmoneans, and G-d joined in as a partner in the revolution. It is for these miracles that we long!
We are obligated to initiate, create, and to continue to connect the spiritual to the physical, heaven to earth, Zionism to Judaism, Torah to Avodah, Kiruv to Chizuk; we will do our bit and pray that G-d joins in too.