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The War of the Greeks Against the Jews

by: Rav Avraham Brandwein, Dean
Yeshiva Kol Yehuda Zvi
POB 14056
Jerusalem, Israel
fax: 972-2-5823276


Chanukah 5756

At the time of the second temple, the Greeks imposed spiritual edicts upon the Jews and, chiefly, not to observe the Sabbath, the month and circumcision. And so the sages, of blessed memory, say that the Greeks wished the Jewish nation to declare the renunciation of their part in the G-d of Israel until the Hasmoneans waged war and, giving their souls, succeeded in expelling the Greeks and assumed the kingdom.

It is necessary to understand the essence of Greece from a more inner perspective. The Zohar says that Greece symbolizes Klipat Noga. Klipat Noga bears explaining. There are four Klipot (husks) as in Ezekiel's vision. In Chapter one is written:

Ezek 1:4
I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north -- an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant fire.

That is: 1) a windstorm; 2) an immense cloud; 3) brilliant fire.
The Ari HaKadosh says these are three Klipot (husks) of impurity. Klipat Noga is the fourth Klipa of which half is good and half is bad. The three impure Klipot hint at all the impure and forbidden things such as animals prohibited as food in the Torah and, as such, are completely impure and cannot be transformed. This is not so for Klipat Noga that is neither impure and nor sacred but rather depends on man and his use of it - i.e., in which way and with which intention. For example, a man eats kosher food. If it is in the name of the Mitzvah of Shabbat, he raises the holy sparks for the good and then this Klipat Noga becomes good. And if he eats without a blessing and not for the Mitzvah then it becomes a Klipa of impurity.

Spiritual reality has three parts:
1) holiness; 2) impurity and, between these, 3) permission.
It is written in Ecclesiastes, "one as against the other G-d made them." For example, Torah and Mitzvot belong to the system of holiness. Transgression and the forbidden belong to the system of impurity. There is no need to correct holiness since it is complete coming directly from the L-rd. It is impossible to correct the impure; there is no other necessity than to distance ourselves from it and to overcome the evil inclination so that it will not bring us to that system.

Besides these two, there is a realm that is called "permission" that has neither transgression nor Mitzvah. For example, the sages of blessed memory commanded us that a man should work to make a living or if, heaven forbid, a man is sick, he must go to a doctor for healing. This is called the realm of permission. If a man works honestly and keeps the Mitzvot so as not to cheat his brother and not to lie and then believes that his salary and living come from the L-rd and doesn't consider his success as coming from his own force and the strength of his own hand, he broadens the realm of permission and inserts this space into the realm of holiness. And if the opposite prevails and he considers his success as coming from himself and works dishonestly, he broadens the realm of permission into that of impurity.

Now we can better understand the essence of Greece that the Zohar defines as Klipat Noga. The essence of Greece is to attribute all of existence to nature and the forces of nature as existing without Divine supervision i.e., denial that nature is governed but, rather, that all depends on the powers of the individual, his body and his wisdom and that there is no reality above nature nor a G-d that governs the world.

According to this we shall understand what the sages, of blessed memory, say when the Greeks decreed to annul the three Mitzvoth, Shabbat, month and circumcision since, principally, these three precepts symbolize those things that are above nature. Shabbat is a sabbatical that the L-rd created and gave us after six days of creating nature. Circumcision is the correction of the human body from the way it is created by nature. The consecration of the month, according to which act we have all the festivals, is also opposed to nature because the sages, of blessed memory, determine when the new month is. That power is given to the wise ones of Israel and everything depends upon their determination. This is the reason why the sages, of blessed memory, say that they ordered the nation of Israel to write on a bull's horn. "you have no part in the G-d of Israel." The bull indicates rigor and "Elokim" (G-d) that is the Gematria of "Teva" (nature) i.e., the side that governs nature - that we, Israel, unify "Teva" to "Elokim" that the Greeks wished to annul, i.e., as if all depended upon the strength of man and the power of nature alone.

According to this, we shall understand why the Mitzvah of Chanukah is to light oil candles. This is also the difference between Chanukah and Purim that during Purim the Mitzvah is principally in drinking wine. Wine and oil both symbolize joy and wisdom as it is said in Ecclesiastes "oil makes the heart joyful and wine will gladden the heart of man." But the principal function of oil is from the bottom up, i.e., oil floats and illuminates from bottom to top. Wine, on the other hand, works from top down, i.e., it is drunk from the mouth to the body just as we find that on the altar the libation of the wine was from top to bottom. Oil, we find, was used for the head where Cohens (priests) and kings were anointed upon the head as it is written in Psalms, "as good oil on the head."

In the body of man, there are also two parts, head and body. The head symbolizes thought, judgment and control of bodily impulses. The body represents nature and its forces. The Greeks didn't wish to annihilate the bodies of the Jews but rather to impose the forces of nature and the denial of G-d - that they not look from the bottom up. i.e., to the upward direction where there is a governor and a supervisor of nature. Thus during Chanukah, the Mitzvah is with oil that illuminates from bottom upwards and we are commanded only to see the lights and not to use them for the purposes of the body - i.e., we are to meditate on the "above nature" reality. On Purim, to the contrary, the edict was to "annihilate and to kill and to eliminate," i.e., even if the nation of Israel were to deny the existence of G-d, heaven forbid, the edict of annihilation would remain in force and thus on Purim we are commanded to abundantly drink wine that pleases the body from top down symbolizing the miracle of the saving of the bodies.

According to Beit Shammai, one should light eight candles the first night and reduce that number with each passing day since during Succoth the number of sacrifices - seventy - corresponding to the seventy nations - are reduced day after day. From the last day of Succoth, until Chanukah, there are also seventy days and the nations of the world symbolize nature. Each day, more of nature enters the realm of holiness until, Chanukah, when all is rendered part of the sacred.

Beit Hillel says we should add a candle each day. There is a famous story in the Gemara Massechet Shabbat that a non-Jew came to Shammai and asked to be taught the whole Torah in the space of a moment. Shammai pushed him away. He then came to Hillel with the same demand and Hiilel told him "What is hateful to you, do not do unto your neighbor that is the whole Torah for the rest go and study Torah." In another story, a non-Jew came to Shammai and asked how to become a Cohen Gadol (high priest). Again, in this story, Shammai pushed him away. Then he came to Hillel, Hillel told him to first learn Torah. Hillel knew that with the sudy of Torah, the non-Jew would learn that a convert cannot become a Cohen, only the descendants of Aaron. Through these stories, we learn of the difference between Shammai and Hillel. According to Shammai, we must first purify ourselves from evil and only then enter the dimension of the sacred. Hillel, on the other hand, claims that we must enter the sacred immediately and bit by bit impurity will be displaced.

The same principle can be seen in fire and its light. On the one hand, it consumes and on the other it illuminates. In the "Al HaNissim" prayer said during Chanukah, we see two functions - "Pinu et Hachalecha" (they cleared Your hall) and "VeTiharu et Mikdashecha" (and they purified Your Temple). Further on, it is written "VeHidliku Neroth" (and they lit candles). We see here two functions - that of the fire that destroys (to purify evil) and that of the light that illuminates (to clear the way for holiness). Shammai emphasized the eradication of evil and thus begins with a maximum of fire - i.e., eight candles. Hillel emphasized affirmative action - beginning with one candle and gradually eliminating the darkness.


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