The (Greek) Elephant in the Room

Today is the Chassidic New Year (marking the Liberation of the first Chabad Rebbe from Czarist prison). Next week is Chanukah.

On Purim, Haman threatened to eradicate the Jewish body from the face of the earth. On Chanukah, the threat was much greater – the Greeks wanted to eradicate the Jewish soul; the battle that ensued between the massive army of Greek soldiers on their war-elephants and the tiny Maccabbee band, was just the consequence of a much deeper conflict.

“Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder!”, shouts the Greek. Body, soul, culture, religion, humanism, paganism, G-d, good, evil … it’s all fine and dandy … live and let live. Along comes the Jew and says, “No, Beauty is in the eyes of the Creator. We are made in the image of G-d. When our soul subjects our body to the service of a Higher Purpose in life – THAT is what you call beauty”.

Every day, we wage the battle of the Greek and the Jew – right inside our very own hearts, in our own lives. Do we succumb to the temptations of the body? Or do we subdue it to a higher purpose in life? The tension is overwhelming and the frustration of having to do battle, day in, day out, can become quite depressing … sometimes we win, but all too often we lose.

Along came Rabbi Schneur Zalman and founded the Chabad Chassidic movement with his writing of the Tanya, the book that sparked the greatest spiritual renaissance in Jewish history. The premise of the Tanya is Leviticus 30:14 – “This thing (of serving G-d) is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.”

Very near? How so? “Quite simply”, writes Rabbi Schneur Zalman, “By our very nature, the human soul – the mind – has absolute and full control over the impulses of the body. It’s just a question of recognizing that truth of nature and putting it to work.”

Shabbat Shalom, Shana Tova and Happy Chanukah!

About the Author
Rabbi Yossi Deren was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1973, lived in Western Massachusetts through the '80s and today serves as the Spiritual Leader and Executive Director of Chabad Lubavitch of Greenwich, Connecticut. Together with his wife Maryashie, they founded the synagogue-center in 1996 as Emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory.