A Message from the Kalever Rebbe – Chanukah 5770
Seeing Our Greatness – Through the Eyes of Our Enemies
People often take for granted those things most familiar to them. Even the most precious heirlooms can become commonplace - until one is reawakened to their true value. As Jews, our most priceless legacy is our holy Torah and its beautiful Mitzvos. And yet, at various times throughout our history, even until the present day, many of us have taken for granted this dearest of gifts from Hashem. However, when we are forcefully deprived of our birthright we once again recognize what we are missing and fight back to reclaim what is rightfully ours.
In the period of the Chanukah story, some 2.300 years ago, our Syrian-Greek oppressors decreed that Jews abandon the practice and observance of three particular Mitzvos: “Shabbos,” “Declaration of the New Month (Kiddush HaChodesh)” and “Ritual Circumcision (Bris Milah).” What was it about these Mitzvos that the Syrian-Greeks found so objectionable and, conversely, what valuable lessons can we draw from what they saw?
The common characteristic of these Mitzvos is that each highlights the special relationship between Hashem and His chosen nation and the supernatural divine plane upon which the Jewish people exist as a result of it. This idea was anathema to the ancient Greeks who introduced rational philosophical thought to the world and bristled at the notion of divine intervention into the affairs of man.
Shabbos is testimony to Hashem's creation of heaven and earth and His continued active participation in all of nature. On Shabbos we Jews are enjoined from the performance of any creative work to demonstrate our belief that ultimately everything we receive comes directly from Hashem and is dependant upon our commitment to observing His holy Mitzvos.
Indeed, the Zohar expounds that Shabbos is the source of all blessing for all of man’s creative endeavors. Paradoxically, the greater one’s observance and glorification of Shabbos by refraining from work, the greater the material benefits he will reap in the course of the workweek. On the other hand, one who violates Shabbos in pursuit of financial gains will see no benefit from the toil of his labor. In the divine framework of Jewish life, faithful adherence to Hashem’s instructions is the most important key to success.
The Mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh symbolizes the eternal, enduring nature of the Children of Israel. Just as the moon waxes brightly and then wanes but its illumination is always restored, so it is with the Children of Israel, while her enemies ever try to extinguish her supernal luminescence, Hashem always rekindles her holy light.
Ritual circumcision is the sign of our eternal covenant with Hashem. We demonstrate that we will endeavor to sublimate and perfect even our basest impulses in the service of the Almighty. Throughout the ages Jews have performed this Mitzvah even at great sacrifice but always with joy.
Decreeing against these three cardinal observances, the Greeks sought to sever the holy bond between Hashem and the Jewish people and debase them to live strictly in accordance with the laws of nature and the will of the gentiles. The Jews heeded the call of the hour and rose up in rebellion against their oppressors. Though greatly outnumbered, they waged war with selfless sacrifice, the “small against the many” placing their trust in Hashem to deliver them from the hands of their enemies. Thus, they sanctified His holy name and miraculously prevailed.
We commemorate this supernatural victory with the Chanukah candles, themselves, the miraculous product of Hashem’s direct providence over His beloved children. The Chanukah candles allude to the very three Mitzvos which the Greeks failed to abolish. The Chanukah candles obviously remind us of the Shabbos candles. They also reflect the inner soul-light of every Jew who enters into Hashem’s covenant through circumcision. And finally, they recall the ever-renewing light of the moon which represents the inextinguishable light of the Jewish nation.
May the holy Chanukah lamps cast the light of Torah wisdom on Jews everywhere so that we never again take for granted our precious heritage. May they engender profound spiritual growth and abundant material blessing for all of us. And may we merit, once again, to see Hashem’s great miracles with the arrival of Mashiach speedily in our days, Amen.