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Chanuka In the Dark
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Chanuka commemorates the miraculous victory of the Chashmanaim over the Yevanim, the Greeks. If we are to fully appreciate the neis, miracle of Chanuka, we must first understand what the Yevanim represented and why they persecuted the Jewish nation.

We all know that the Greeks excelled in intellectual pursuits: science, philosophy and ethics. The Gemara talks of the wise men of Athens and many Rishonim relied on their teachings in works of Torah. The Rambam even said that Aristotle almost reached the level of prophecy. Generally, those who engage in intellectual and ethical studies realise how pointless the pursuit of worldly pleasures is. And yet, pleasure seeking and hedonism identify Greek culture. How can we reconcile these two opposites?

Many a time a professor of ethics has been caught in an act that compromises his position. This we can understand. Although they know and even preach that this is unethical behaviour, nevertheless, the temptation is too great and they succumb to their desires. With Yavan, however, it was more than a question of losing control and giving into temptation, it was an ideology. They erected arenas where they hosted sporting events, and nudity was a feature of these competitions. One might say that they worshipped the human body.

During the six days of creation, Hashem implanted every being and every element with their potential that would later be discovered by man. He not only gave man the wisdom and intellect to invent but He also instilled in man the nature to be inquisitive and the desire to better his lot. Man can go on to make great discoveries and inventions. He then has a choice. On the one hand he can see Hashem hidden in creation; man can perceive Hashem's greatness, the attributes that He has infused into the world and the wisdom, yearning and curiosity to seek out new frontiers with which He has endowed man. Alternatively, he can focus on his achievements, his inventions and his discoveries.

Yavan does not ascribe their successes to Hashem. Rather, they take full credit for all of their accomplishments. Interestingly, light symbolises chachma, wisdom. Yet, Chazal refer to Yavan, the nation that represents chachma, as choshech, darkness. Normally, light enables one to see. However, an extremely bright light can have the opposite effect. Not only does it impair vision, it can actually cause blindness. The Yevanim are blinded by their wisdom and accomplishments. Not only do they fail to see Hashem, they actually come to deny Him. That is choshech.

Since the Greeks perceived their ideas and discoveries, as their own, they wished to display the greatness of man, in this way denying Hashem. They therefore paraded nude, to show that man is the source of everything.

The Jewish people, on the other hand, see Hashem as the source of all nature, and realise that our intelligence is a Divine gift. The study of Torah is a holy pursuit which instil kedusha in all we do. This was the struggle between the Chashmanaim and the Yevanim: we, who see Hashem as the centre of the universe versus the Yevanim, who considered themselves the centre of the universe.

The miracle of Chanuka lasted for eight days. The number eight is considered to be above nature - the world was created in six days, and Hashem rested on the seventh. By seeing Hashem in nature and using this world to serve Him, we draw closer to Him. We then merit that Hashem will alter nature for us, which is the ultimate victory over the Yevanim.

Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

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