Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Kislev 5759, December 8, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
The Chanukah Lights Repel the Darkness
by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

The fierce struggle against the secular Jews and their allies the Reform and Conservative factions, all of whom, in one way or another, seek to uproot Torah and breach the walls of Judaism is an additional chapter in the difficult test in the period before Moshiach comes.

The specious ideologies of those attacking the Torah are many: nationalism, messianism, atheism, reform, and even materialism -- all have been adopted by some as an ideology per se. Every active opposition against their harmful influence demands the enlisting of all our capabilities and steadfastness.

Quite frequently reshoim succeed materially and gain positions of wealth, power and/or influence. They flaunt their success in an effort to persuade others not to oppose them. The message they seek to convey is that their opponents should prefer to "compromise" with them and resign themselves to reality no matter how bitter it seems.

This is the reasoning that officials of the secular Israeli government "advise" us to follow. Actually this is what meisisim umadichim who have tried to gain control of the nation's soul have told us throughout the ages. "Why get involved in a hopeless battle?" they say to convince us, although the discerning ear hears a teasing undertone. "When faced with our superior material strength and genuine might your failure is inevitable. Look at yourself! Look how weak you are! Don't bang your heads against the wall! Be realistic."

Reflecting on what happened during Chanukah prompts us to weigh our duty to fight for truth, and teaches us to pitch ourselves into the battle for Torah observance without any other considerations.

In Mimizrach Shemesh, a compilation of shmuessim and hashkofo delivered by Maran HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l during the World War II golus of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Shanghai, HaRav Moshe Binyomin Bornstein zt'l, his talmid muvhak, cites what the Mashgiach said in those trying days about our duty to cling to truth and to fight for it even at the price of endangering ourselves.

Our situation during the era in which the evil Greek kingdom ruled over Eretz Yisroel certainly seemed, to anyone looking at it "realistically," to be totally hopeless. Greece had unlimited, absolute control over Eretz Yisroel and the Jewish Nation. They governed not only our bodies but even our souls. Each Jew was forced to write on his clothes and on a bull's horn that "he has no part or inheritance in the Elokim of Yisroel," chas vesholom. That dreadful slogan which every Jew, from the elderly to the young, daily and constantly saw, had an immeasurable influence.

Of course, when first seen such a slogan would truly repel him, and the attempted coercion to heresy and to nevertheless control our conscience would fill him with disgust. Nonetheless, as time passed a collective influence formed, penetrating like poison into everyone's body.

"Reality" seems to compel a person to despair and to giving up, engendering a feeling of being too weak to do anything against the mighty suppressive forces being wielded against him. The only option would seem to be surrender and passive resignation to the titanic powers threatening the nation's existence. Each person says to himself, "There is just nothing I can do about it," and "The predicament is overwhelming. We just cannot fight against `forces of nature' and concrete reality. There is nothing to do since anyway we would not succeed in accomplishing anything."

At that point of sweeping desperation in the days of Matisyohu, a few individuals waved high the flag of truth. They demanded that the nation wage an apparently hopeless war with mesiras nefesh. To do so was both "illogical" and "impossible," but their reconsideration of what should be done and their being motivated by an inner strength is what turned the tables.

"`I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn My hand against their adversaries' (Tehillim 81:15). We have seen [Hashem's destroying our enemies] throughout the generations -- and especially on Chanukah. At that time the nation's situation was bleak and remained that way for fifty-two years.

The Rambam writes that Greece ruled over the bodies of the Jews of those days and even their daughters. Greece concentrated on uprooting emunah from [the Jews] in all sorts of cunning ways. The Greeks forced the Jews to write on their clothes and the horn of their bulls that they had no part in the Elokim of Yisroel. Doing such a thing makes an impression on one's heart -- `The eyes see, the heart covets, and the body does the aveiros' (Rashi, Bamidbar 15:39).

The Greeks utilized their wisdom to do evil. They were more jealous of the Jews than the Egyptians since when the Jews were in Egypt they had not yet received the Torah. The Tur writes that the main reason Chazal set Chanukah [as a yom tov] was to thank Hashem. It is not like Purim in which the Persians imposed a harsh decree on our bodies because we had derived physical enjoyment when we sinned. The sin on Chanukah was our being negligent in avoda (see the Bach). This is the reason why all the decrees in those days were mainly against our religion.

In sum, the Greeks ruled over everything -- but suddenly Matisyohu awakened to act and everything changed.

"We see what one man's being incited to act can do. He can actually create new worlds. In addition, we see how negligence can also create worlds of destruction. That same Yehuda the Maccabee was, before his awakening to action, someone called Matisyohu who could do nothing. A moment afterwards he became a frightening warrior whose roar was like that of a lion, as Chazal say about him. Before arousing himself from his stupor he was powerless. Matisyohu was alone but was zoche to Hashem's assistance because of this awakening.

"We likewise see that Hashem said to Gideon, `Go in this might and you shall save Yisroel' (Shofetim 6:14). The world was created for each individual since each person can save the world and change it completely. This shows us what can happen when even one person strengthens himself."

If not for Matisyohu, not even the memory of the Jewish Nation would have remained. He taught us that we should always be conscious of the power of individuals. A minority should not be frightened of the majority and dread facing a "war against the whole world." "Reality" did not play any role for Matisyohu and his "chance of success" was inconsequential for him. He only cared about the truth.

HaRav Levenstein adds that there were those who sacrificed their lives for their personal mitzvah observance in the privacy of their homes. Matisyohu, however, taught us that we must actively fight against those who want to destroy our religion.

"Actually then too there were those who were moseir nefesh for observing mitzvos, but no one until then fought openly against the enemy. Matisyohu's awakening is what brought the redemption for the Jews. Previously there was a hesteir ponim that made it possible to think that no memory of Yisroel would, chas vesholom, remain.

"We can see something of Hashem's ways. Hashem can allow an enemy to do what he wishes even if the only thing missing is a strengthening in Torah and mitzvos by a chossid. Then when that chossid strengthens himself, everything turns itself over. No natural or accustomed way of life remains and we are then zoche to miracles such as the Chashmonaim saw. We see to what extent we must continue strengthening ourselves."

Doubtless Hashem's mighty hand did this and the whole victory was a miracle. Its foundation was, however, caused by an awakening from below. Maran the Mashgiach says it is amazing how such a revolution against a kingdom which ruled the whole world could be made by so few people and even they were wearied by fifty-two years of oppression aimed at wiping away any remnant of Judaism and terrible decrees resulting in a feeling of total loss and hopelessness.

This principle of clinging to the truth under all conditions, the Mashgiach says, can be learned from Yosef Hatzaddik. His behavior teaches us about the "strength and might of the Jewish heart."

"We must reflect about the might of Yosef in the way he acted with his brothers and the great wonder that the entire time he did not let his father know of his living in Egypt. Let us imagine the following: is it possible for Yosef who was Yaakov's youngest son to be stolen from the house of Yaakov Ovinu where the Shechina dwelled, to be sold as a slave in the house of the Egyptian sar hatabochim, to find himself in jail, to fall from such a high level in spiritual achievement and material standing although he surely had done nothing to deserve all this, but still be able to subdue his feelings? Even after he was made viceroy and surely was able to tell his father of his living in Egypt he did not do so.

"The Ramban explains that Yosef's reason for not divulging his being alive to his father was because he understood that his dreams were true. He did not reveal his being alive to his father so that his dreams would be fulfilled. (The gemora infers from Yosef that a person should wait up to twenty-two years for his dream to materialize.) We are simply staggered when we realize Yosef's strength of spirit, how he was able to suffer hardship and humiliation, and his wanting to do the mitzvah of honoring a father and the like, but still not to veer from the truth. Yosef did this although he did not hear explicitly from HaKodosh Boruch Hu that he should do so. Certainly we can and should be as strong as a rock to fulfill every halocho in the Torah. Chazal write that Klal Yisroel says `I am a wall' (Shir HaShirim 8:10) since all the winds in the world cannot move it."

Am Yisroel has been required to follow this moral lesson throughout history. The Maharal's brother writes in Sefer HaChaim (III, ch. 7) that the test of Chanukah repeats itself in one way or another in every generation. This is what Chazal mean when they write "all of the yomim tovim will become abrogated except for Chanukah and Purim."

"The reason for the mitzvos of Chanukah and Purim has never become abrogated since there are still those in every generation who try to make us forget our Torah just as the Greeks did during these days of Chanukah."

We understand that this has actually happened in recent generations. From the time that meisisim umadichim -- the Enlightenment, Zionism, and the Reform Movements -- tried to gain control over Am Yisroel, many Jews have felt powerless and on the brink of despair when faced with the massive power and crushing might of those who want to erase our religion and disseminate foreign ideologies.

This troublesome reality causes many not to swim against the tide and to either openly identify with the reshoim who want to change Am Yisroel's image, or at least to act passively and resign themselves to "reality." In practice, passive behavior all too often leads to merging with these heretical groups.

The gedolei Torah have warned us not to become close to these negative elements. They encouraged us to cling to the truth and to weather the storm, not to succumb to the tremendous material power aimed at us. Unfortunately, not everyone manages to succeed in resisting them. Only the small assembly of Torah-true, who fervently guard Judaism and the Torah's truth, have remained loyal.

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