Sunday, December 6, 2015

Missing Chanukah

(A repost from a few years ago)

Some people miss Chanukah when it's over.

Some people miss Chanukah when it's happening.

Story number one: I was at the printing house last week, arranging to print 2000 copies of my sample chapter about leopards from the Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom. I told the (secular Israeli) woman in charge of the printing schedule that I wanted it out in time for Chanukah, because the subject matter is related to Chanukah.

"What do leopards have to do with Chanukah?" she asked.

It was a very reasonable question. I explained that in Scripture, Daniel has a prophetic vision in which he sees various animals which represent different kingdoms, and the leopard represents Greece.

"But what does Greece have to do with Chanukah? she asked.

Story number two: I heard a dvar Torah which, as a launch point, discussed the halachah that if the candles on the menorah blow out, you need not rekindle them. The speaker went on to describe how the message of Chanukah is that everything is in Hashem's hands, about how the Greek army was defeated entirely by way of supernatural miracles, and about how the ultimate message of Chanukah is that Torah and mitzvos is all that counts, and hishtadlus is entirely irrelevant, and basically pointless and unnecessary.

32 comments:

  1. So on point one: i was once in a chumash class on a Shabbos afternoon in a small shul within a small city. And as is often the case, an older gentleman who needed to say kaddish drifted in right before mincha and sat down with us. He was obviously not a regular shul attendee as could be surmised from the pointy polyester white Kippah. After the class was over he said, "I just can't figure out for the life of me why you guys study the same thing over and over again!"

    On the seconde story: I wonder if the woman from the printing shop heard the dvar would she say, "What does Hashem have to do with Torah and mitzvot?"

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  2. Reminds me of the מאי חנוכה MY Chanukah joke. (Everyone has their chaukah, in regards to who are the modern day Hellenists and Hashmonaim).

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  3. On story number 2. R. Rakeffet quoted R. Yisrael Salanter as saying that one needs Bitachon as if there is no Hishtadlus, and at the same time needs to do Hishtadlut as if there is no Bitachon.

    ZSI

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  4. Mi k'amcha Yisroel.

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  5. What she probably meant was that the Seleucid Empire was based in Syria not Greece.

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  6. The funny thing about the second example is that Chabad has the custom of rekindling the lights if they go out (as explained in the halachic notes to the Nusach Ari siddur Tehillat Hashem). To be sure, they believe in a strong version of Divine Providence -- everything is in His hands. Yet when it comes to outreach, they "leave nothing to chance," and have a more organized and widespread kiruv effort than anything that has ever existed in the history of Yiddishkeit. This makes complete sense to me: "do not rely on miracles" (Bavli) and "the main thing is not study, but action" (Avot). Moreover, since the vast majority of Jews throughout the world are very far from observance (and in many cases are committed to ideologies, whether it's feminism or liberalism or skepticism, that predispose them against traditional Judaism), it takes a strong faith in the ultimate success of your mission to actually carry out the vast effort needed to make success possible.

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  7. Makes me wonder what the woman in the print shop thought Ḥanukka is all about...

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  8. Sad on both accounts. Both have a very lacking Jewish education. The only difference is that one of the two THINKS they know more than the other.

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  9. I don't know which story is scarier.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  10. > "But what does Greece have to do with Chanukah? she asked.

    Not as much as a yeshivah education would have you think. The Seleucid Assyrians were part of the Hellenistic world, and the ruling class was Macedonian/Greek, but the Chashmonaim were not fighting “the Greeks.” In fact, only a few decades before the Seleucid Empire had lost its Greek territories to Rome.

    > Daniel has a prophetic vision in which he sees various animals which represent different kingdoms, and the leopard represents Greece.

    But “Greece” wasn’t a kingdom, it was a geographic area. Politically, Greece in Daniel’s time was a collection of hundreds of city-states. Interestingly, it was about this time that Athens first experimented with democracy, and other city states followed, so that many Greek polities in his time weren’t even “kingdoms.”

    Even if it refers to ethnic rather than political groups, the Seluecid Empire was formed out of Alexander the Great’s, which was really Macedonian, not Greek. It only works if the animals in Daniel’s vision represent cultures.

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  11. I find the second story much more disturbing than the first. Basic ignorance can be remedied. The hashkafa that Story Two's dvar Torah came from is much harder to eradicate, and arguably much more harmful (since it's that type of hashkafa that makes secular Jews like the woman in Story One think religious Jews are crazy.)

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  12. Regarding story # 2; Is it possible that perhaps he meant that our Histadlus is not "directly related" to the successes we enjoy.

    They certainly could not sit with their hands folded doing nothing; but what kind of real Histadlus could the few and weak Jews have done to be victorious over the many and strong Greeks. It clearly was a super-natural miracle and not a direct result of them picking up arms.

    I know from my own experience that many times the deals I try to do and put a lot of effort into do not bear fruit, but on the other hand, the best deals come unexpected - totally out of left field and I see G-ds involvement over and over again.

    I might know that Histadlus is necessary, and I would be negligent if I did not "at least try". However, I should not make the mistake that it is the cause of my success.

    YBD

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  13. As Rabbi Natan Slifkin once wrote on this very blog, when one says he has two points [stories] to make, invariably the second one is the main one.

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  14. ""But what does Greece have to do with Chanukah? she asked."

    Technically, the lady is correct. You'll need to find yourself a Seleucid mascot.

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  15. "They certainly could not sit with their hands folded doing nothing; but what kind of real Histadlus could the few and weak Jews have done to be victorious over the many and strong Greeks. It clearly was a super-natural miracle and not a direct result of them picking up arms."

    The book of maccabees makes this point slightly differently.

    The Chashmonaim say to their followers, that the battle will not be won by them, but that they are needed to bring the blessing from Gd.

    To "prove" this point, the book then mentions about one of the brothers being told to stay home and guard the people. He decides that he can overtake a small greek army since he out numbers them and it will bring him great honor amongst his brothers. He attacks and gets massacred.

    Both stories have what to rely on.

    What I liked from a few years ago, was these videos where the grandfather was telling the grandchild the story of chanukah. In both videos the words were exactly the same, but in one video the Charedi was championing their victory over the chiloni, and in the other the Chiloni was championing their victory over the Charedi.

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  16. A note to G*3's comment:

    According to most scholars, Daniel- or at least that section of it- was written at the time of Chanukkah. (In other words, it's not so much a nevuah as a description of what was happening. Note that the book is not in Neviim.) Hence, at the time, a reference to Greece would have been to the Seleucids.

    One may then wonder if Rome would be "Greek" under this definition as well.

    On the other hand, this would mean that the leopard may well represent something else entirely.

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  17. @Z
    What she probably meant was that the Seleucid Empire was based in Syria not Greece.

    Hysterical!

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  18. The speaker went on to describe how the message of Chanukah is that everything is in Hashem's hands, about how the Greek army was defeated entirely by way of supernatural miracles

    Everything except for the establishment of the State of Israel, War of Independence, and the Six Day War.

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  19. Rav Dessler explains how much practical effort one must make.

    It's a sliding scale, highly dependent on each individual.

    If one is in business, and has a business partner, how much practical effort must that person do, to run the business?

    Simply stated - he must do anything that doesn't trust his partner to do.

    We are partners with G-d in the creation of the universe.

    Anything we don't trust G-d to do for us, we must make a practical effort to do.

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    1. Rav Dessler's thesis on this matter is ingenious, as his ideas generally are. The problem is that empirical observation and experience completely falsify any such models. There is simply no correlation between having greater trust in Hashem (of this particular kind) and having more money. One would have to posit that Hashem is simply a very poor businessman. (Chas Veshalom)

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  20. "On story number 2. R. Rakeffet quoted R. Yisrael Salanter as saying that one needs Bitachon as if there is no Hishtadlus, and at the same time needs to do Hishtadlut as if there is no Bitachon."

    That makes bitachon sound like a rain dance, doesn't it?

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  21. On the topic of how bitachon/hishtadlus works out in practice, the story of Yosef and his brothers can be instructive. The short version: both Yosef and the brothers talk about destiny and divine punishment, yet all their actions are carried out independently by them and without specific nevuot from Hashem instructing them what to do. Any thoughts?

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  22. On the topic of how bitachon/hishtadlus works out in practice, the story of Yosef and his brothers can be instructive. The short version: both Yosef and the brothers talk about destiny and divine punishment, yet all their actions are carried out independently by them and without specific nevuot from Hashem instructing them what to do. Any thoughts?

    Gen 42:9 implies that Yosef, at the very least, considered his dreams (presumably divinely inspired) in deciding to treat his brothers harshly: 'And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed about them, and he said to them, "You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land."'

    Online copy of Gen 42:9

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  23. The woman may have asked "What do leopards have to do with Chanukah?" and "What does Greece have to do with Chanukah? in which she being secular can be excused for.
    But she never asked "what is Chanukah?"

    Therefore "missing Chanukah when it's happening." Dose not apply to this woman.

    Have in mind that they are many many Rabbis having studied in yeshiva all their lives that cannot correctly answer even as to what is the proper blessing made for this or that, how old the universe is, and from where did Adam come. And they are excused by us every day.

    On the other hand. If one lights the menorah, and when the flames blow out, dose not rekindle them, i.e. the menorah was hardly lit.

    Then there is a very strong chance that it may be said, "He is the one missing Chanukah when it's happening.
    o

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  24. Re: David Ohsie
    True, Yosef considered the dream in his decision to treat the brothers harshly, and it was presumably divinely inspired. Yet, the dreams of the Avos until this point have been explicitly described as Hashem appearing to them. Therefore, even the fact that Yosef took his dream as divine guidance is a decision/interpretation on his part. Also, if his dream was a nevua (if that's what you're suggesting) what about the sar ha'mashkim, sar ha'ofim and paroh? Were those future-oriented dreams nevuos? I'm imagine these things are discussed somewhere, I just don't know where.

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    1. If I remember correctly (I don't have any sefarim to hand) Saadia Gaon states on Yosefs' dreams that they are prophetic. I can't recall about the other dreams.

      Mordechai

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  25. 'Simply stated - he must do anything that doesn't trust his partner to do.'

    Where did he say it? The way it's brought down here sounds absurd as both the moshal and the nimshal.

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  26. from the ramban on parshat vayeshev " הגזירה אמת והחריצות שקר "

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  27. http://www.inn.co.il/Forum/Forum.aspx/t62212

    (english http://mlookup.awardspace.com/chanukah.html )

    (h/t: larry glunker)

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  28. Seleucids, Greeks, let's not nickpick; for all intents & purposes, Seleucids = Greeks.

    Bryna's comment way up the batting order here is spot-on. The woman in Story #1 spoke out of innocent ignorance. That can be easily remedied. The gentleman in Story #2 is different. Either he knows what he said is untrue and has no basis in actual history (see I Maccabees, which has a very good rep among historians, among other sources) and is saying it anyway to further a particular hashkafa or he was brought up in such a bubble that he honestly believes that what he says is Torah-from-Sinai truth. In either case, sad, and much less easily remedied than the mere ignorance of the woman in the first story.

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  29. Kesav Sofer discusses the connection made by the Midrash between Reuven's idea to throw Yosef in the pit, and the Halacha that A Menorah higher than 20 Amos is Possul. The gist of it is that sitting at home relying on a Nes to happen is not the correct approach; Hishtadlus is necessary.

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  30. 'Simply stated - he must do anything that doesn't trust his partner to do.'

    Where did he say it? The way it's brought down here sounds absurd as both the moshal and the nimshal.


    Just needs to be interpreted properly. I trust God to enable me to live if I eat food, and to cause me to starve if I don't. I trust God to make me poor if I do no work. One without Bitachon thinks that everything is random and that therefore his efforts are for naught.

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