Chanukah/Mikeitz: Why The Conflict?

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This week’s lesson is dedicated in loving memory of Yitzchok Gedalya Feldman.

The Greeks are known for the tremendous wisdom they contributed to the world. The Jewish people, for time immemorial, cherished intellect and the pursuit of wisdom as well. Why then, couldn’t we get along?

Lesson Contents:

A. The Holiday of Intellect

The Rebbe cites the Talmud which states that the miracle of the oil is the primary celebration of Chanukah. What is the meaning of light? Light represents wisdom, for it gives the person the ability to discern right from wrong. 

B. The Great Distinction

If the Greeks cherished wisdom so much, the Rebbe asks, why were they so against us?

The answer is based on the distinction between Torah and wisdom. The pursuit of wisdom doesn’t necessarily entail correct behavior. Torah, on the other hand, is all about being a practical guide in a person’s life. A person might even incorrectly approach Torah study as a pursuit of wisdom; that approach, Jeremiah told us, can mete upon us terrible destruction and desolation. 

In Source 1, we read about the above statement: Jeremiah says that the land of Israel was destroyed because the Jewish people had “not hearkened to My voice nor walked by it.” In Source 2, the Talmud asks: what exactly is Jeremiah referring to? The answer, the Talmud suggests, is that the people failed to recite the blessing over Torah study. In Source 3, the Bach asks: such a severe punishment for such a minor transgression? Rather, the failure to recite the blessing reflects a failure to recognize that Torah is G-d’s wisdom, and not a mere intellectual pursuit.

This by no means indicates that we do not recognize the genuine wisdom among the nations (Source 4). To the contrary, the Rebbe explains, the Torah definitely recognizes and values the intellectual contributions of the nations in fields such as medicine and astronomy, to name a few. However, even the great philosophical contributions of Aristotle and Socrates didn’t hold them back from behaving in unbecoming ways. Their wisdom didn’t influence their actions. That is the uniqueness of Torah.

As the Talmud cites Rabbi Yochanan: Torah is not to be studied from just anyone; it is to be studied only from someone who resembles an angel. In other words, it’s not about the wisdom; it’s about the implementation (Source 5).

C. The Wild Mythologies

The Rebbe explains that the Jews and the Greeks have different approaches to wisdom. For a Jew, the foundation is the observance of Torah. The pursuit of Torah knowledge is only a means to an end — to learn how to properly apply Torah principles to our lives. Among the Greeks, however, wisdom is an end in itself — which means that it could be twisted as one sees fit period. 

This also explains our distinct approaches to G-dliness: for a Jew, the one G-d is totally transcendent, while in Greek mythologies, there are numerous gods who are engaged in numerous criminal behaviors. In other words, the foundation of Judaism is G-d, while the foundation of Greece is the individual — and his gods are created in his image.

This is why there was a war between us: they respected the intellectual elements of the Jewish people, but they couldn’t come to terms with Torah’s practical application to daily life. 

This is the miracle of Chanukah: True morality overcame wisdom — shining its light to all generations.

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