CHANUKAH

By Rabbi Daniel Lapin

 


Good Evening ladies and gentlemen.

 

I would like to launch into the subject for this evening's commentary. Before doing that I would like to explain the rules of the game. We are going to be probing, in some depth I hope, into what makes Chanukah. But, at the same time in order to make sure that what we are discussing is not mere fantasy, we are going to have to make sure that everything is rooted within the structure of halachah. So that we can be absolutely certain that we are not superimposing our own ideas on what Chanukah might be about, but, rather we are extracting some of the true meaning that Chanukah will yield for us. Part of what I'll be doing is starting off with an approach that my late father took on this matter. It was story that he would tell me often, even when I was too young to understand the meaning of the story. So, I remember the story very well. It took me a number of years before I got an understanding of the value of the story. The story is about the vacation he took when he was a yeshiva student, in Lithuania. Now what do you do when you want to take a vacation from Lithuania? Now Lithuania is a very horrible place. It really is just a frozen waste. It is just this side of the Arctic circle. It is not a big vacation destination. If any of you are thinking of somewhere nice to go this winter - there are nice places that I can recommend - I do not think that Lithuania is one of them. What my father, and some of his friends, did was to decide that they were going to visit several Jewish communities that lay even further north. Now this is well before World War II, so they decided to visit some Jewish communities in Finland. Now if Lithuania is just this side of the Arctic circle then most of Finland is apparently  way the other side. It was just about this time of the year (Chanukah). One night my father and some of his friends from the yeshiva found themselves staying at a hotel. Now a hotel in Finland in the 1930's - was not the Sheraton. It was a little inn. That's all. There were a few rooms upstairs and a big room downstairs. And after dinner - now obviously these Jewish boys had acquired their own food along, which they ate. After dinner all the guests - now there must have been about twenty guests staying at this inn. Now after dinner they all gathered around the fireplace, in their coats, shivering away, because it is a long night and there are several hours before it is time to go to bed. So, no TV, so you may remember an old custom - you converse - they talked! So they have a conversation and the conversation lags. You know how sometimes crowds are just like a black hole - nothing to talk about, and nobody to talk with. Eventually somebody said, "well can anybody entertain us? Does anybody know anything?" Finally one fellow there, not a Jewish guy, just another one of the travelers, said," I am a hypnotist." All of a sudden everybody perks up. My father said, "Do some hypnosis for us". The hypnotist said," I'll need a volunteer." Somebody steps forward and the hypnotist puts him into a trance. While he is in the trance he said to him, "at the stroke of midnight, tonight, you are going to run to that window and you are going to fling the window open". Everybody gasped because at the beginning of winter, in Finland, they shut the window and the next time they open them is in the spring - it is too cold. It takes hours for the fire to heat up the room. Now you don't go and let all the heat out by opening up the window. Well he said that is what you are going to do. Then you are going to come out of your trance and you are not going to remember anything. The fellow then returned to his seat and the hypnotist too. And everybody is watching - carefully. At eleven thirty, he starts going like this (fanning himself)... My father said that at eleven forty he starts taking his jacket off. He takes it right off and throws it aside. At ten to twelve he undoes his shirt. At twelve-o-clock he jumps up and says, "I can't take this heat anymore." He runs to the window and opens it, takes a deep breath, and says, "at last, some fresh air." And then he wake up and says, "My God what have I done". He slams the window shut and he says, "how did that happen?"

 

It is a funny story except that there is a terribly important point to come out of all this. The point is that everybody in that room, but one, knew what was really going on. That one man thought that he opened the window because he was hot. But everyone else knew the truth which is that he was hot because he had to open the window. This was a reversal of the cause and effect. If you had not known anything about what had happened - you had come into that room at eleven-thirty you would have seen a man getting hotter and hotter and then opening the window. And you would have thought that he had opened the window because he felt hot. But, had you been there all the time, you would have watched in amazement as his body started preparing for the incomprehensible action that he was programmed to do. He was going to have to open the window, and since this is inexplicable the only way his body could tolerate it was to create this heat that his body felt. And he goes off to open the window. This is fascinating because it is a valuable key to understanding the Jewish calendar.

 

I always thought that Jewish holidays are as the result of certain events which took place in Jewish history. And now here I am about to disturb you. I am going to say that it is not like that. This little story of the reversal of cause and effect is very valuable in our understanding. I thought that Pesach was because we were taken out of the land of Egypt. The real story is that we were taken out of Egypt on the fifteenth day of Nisan because that was the day which was already preordained as Pesach, long before we associate these one to another. How do we know that? Well for one thing we know that when the angel visited Abraham and Lot, they were given matzos to eat. They baked matzos to feed to the visitors. Why did they do this? And Rashi says very explicitly - well, because it was Pesach! So, the proposition has some meat to it. Pesach existed long before anybody went into Egypt! And caring Jews actually ate matzos on that day. Isn't that bizarre? 

 

More than that, we know that in the days of creation at the beginning of Bereshit, it says that at the end of each day it says "days" with no definite article. A "second day" a "third day" a "fourth day" a "fifth day". But, what happens when we get to the sixth day? This is something that we say with kiddush every Friday night. "The sixth day"! Why does it say it? It should be "a sixth day" just like on the "fifth day". And now we are going to come to the seventh day. Now look what it says, "the seventh day". Because that was the seventh day, which was a special day - so it make sense. What does the sixth day have to do with it? The Talmud says that the reason it was, is because every Jewish holiday has a specific day of the month associated with it. And there is only one holiday on the Jewish calendar which falls on the sixth of the month. That is the holiday of Shavuot. The holiday of the giving of the Torah. And the Talmud say that sixth day was already defined as "the" sixth day, not "a" sixth day because the entire validity of that day depended, retroactively, on the accepting of the Torah by the Jewish people on the sixth day of the month of Sivan. So, there again we find that two thousand years before the Torah was given, there is already the day designated, which was going to be the holiday that the Torah is given.

 

If that is the case, then it would be no surprise to us to hear that the holiday of Chanukah falls into exactly the same category. And that, not surprisingly, Chanukah, contrary to popular belief - Do you know what the popular Chanukah belief is? The belief is that it is a latter day holiday that the Rabbis came up with. There were not enough things on the calendar so they threw in another holiday - an eight day holiday. And somehow or another, magically, it caught on. Apparently not the best. Really Chanukah existed just the same way Pesach and Shavuot and Succoth did beforehand. And the events, with the Greeks, took place at this time of the year because it was the obvious time of the year for it to take place. It had to take place then.

 

Now if Chanukah, in fact, was always in existence, then it would be reasonable that you ought to be able to find some allusion to it in the Torah. Well of course we do. We find several allusions to it. I will show you three or four tonight. First of all in ... the Torah lists all the holidays on the Jewish calendar. Now which is the holiday immediately preceding Chanukah? Succoth, right? We just finished it. So lets go through the listings in the Jewish year. The first holiday would be Pesach. Well actually the very first holiday it mentions is a weekly one called Shabbat. The next one is ...The first one is on the fourteenth day of the first month of Nisan - Passover. Then, after that, it says you must count fifty days and you have the holiday of Shavuot. And after that you come to the seventh month, on the first day of the month we have got Rosh HaShanah. And then on the tenth day of that month, Yom Kippur. And then on the fifteenth day of that month, Succoth. And right after that, the very next thing... God spoke to Moses saying, "command the children of Israel that they must bring olive oil to light the menorah." (Leviticus 24:2) It is incongruous. What is it doing there? It does not make sense. It is not in the context that we should be talking about the menorah, there, or the oil. Obviously that is the plain meaning. The other meaning is that we have here a listing of all the holidays and right after Succoth is listed the holiday of the olive oil to light the menorah. That's pretty straight forward. But what is the holiday for? If this holiday existed before the incident that you all know about, with the Maccabees and the Greeks, what is the holiday about, if it is not to celebrate that? What is it about that day which makes it necessary that the incident with the Greeks had to take place on that day? What is the holiday about? The beginning of the Torah - and obviously it has something to do with lights. Everyone calls it the festival of lights. And that central theme obviously goes back a very long time. As a matter of fact our good Christians friends were looking for a day to identify as the birthday of their God. They wanted to select a birthday for Jesus. Now this birthday was selected long after Jesus was born - long after He had died. So nobody actually had any slight idea when He was really born. Some authorities say that He was born in Nisan. But that does not matter. His birthday has nothing to do with the day He was born. It was designated for convenience reasons, not for calendar reasons. So what date did the Christians select for the birthday of Jesus? They took the twenty-fifth day of the month of December. Why the twenty-fifth? Because if you want to suggest that your God's birth brought light into the world, then you might as well choose a date which the whole existing world already knew was associated with the idea of light. So they picked the twenty-fifth because the twenty-fifth of a month has to do with light.

 

Does anybody know why twenty-five has to do with light? The twenty-fifth word in the Torah is "light"! And so obviously if you are talking about light it has got to have something to do with twenty-five. That is why we choose twenty-five. Correction, we did not choose it, but, that is why it is the day twenty-five. Why our Christian friends chose twenty-five is because they followed us. That is why it is called the Judeo-Christian tradition. Not the Christian-Judeo tradition. Because Jewish came first.

 

Now, what do you need a holiday of lights for anyway? You need a holiday of lights because of a strange reason. Which if you just read the words in the Torah is not immediately evident. But the Talmud says the following: God made this light - a certain type of light. It was too penetrating. So He only let it last for thirty-six hours. And after thirty-six hours He took it away and hid it for sometime in the future that has not yet come. And He replaced it with a weaker merely physical aspect of that light. But that as long as that light was there, for those thirty-six hours, Adam by means of that light was able to see from one end of the world to the other, and from the beginning of time to the end of time. So that light was the light of total understanding. Isn't that what light signifies? The Talmud says anytime that the word "light" is used anyway in the Torah or rabbinic text "light" always means knowledge and wisdom and understanding.

 

What does a cartoonist use as a device to show that the subject, in a frame, just had a great idea? A light bulb! What do people say when they are trying to tell you they understand the directions you have given them on how to get to your house? "Oh, I see"! Someone else says, "I see the light". This means I understand something. This is something that is common in most languages. This is very interesting. You would have thought that just in the marvelous diversity of life, on this planet, some cultures would have said, "Oh, I smell", when they mean that they understand. Or, "I taste it now. Thanks for the explanation". In most languages and most cultures the phrase is "I see". Because of this primitive memory in the minds of men of that original light which was the light of total understanding. But, it only lasted for thirty-six hours. Before Chanukah your shopping lists say make sure, before next Saturday night, I buy thirty-six candles. Because you are going to burn one on the first night, two on the next night, three on the night after that, four on the night after that, five on the next night, six after that, seven after that, and eight after that for a total of thirty-six candles. We have thirty-six candles why? Because it is connected to the thirty-six hours that the light burned in the beginning!

 

So now I have an understanding of why we need to have Chanukah. I need to have Chanukah - I am not up to the Greeks yet, we still need to talk about why the incident with the Greeks had to fall out on this day - the real meaning of the day I am beginning to understand. The real meaning of the day is that since God took away the light of total human understanding after thirty-six hours and since we must remain eager to recover it sometime in the future, the only way not to forget that it ever existed is to celebrate once a year the fact that there once was the light of total understanding. And for eight days, each year, we give ourselves an inoculation, a spiritual reminder that there is such a thing as light that is different from all other light.

 

There are other candles that we light on a regular basis, every Shabbat. Are you supposed to use that light, or is it supposed to be symbolic and not used? What are you supposed to do with the light of the Shabbat candles? You put it on the table because you are supposed to use it! It is designed to enhance the light of the evening. Because it is just plain physical light - that is what it is there for. But how about the light of Chanukah? It is not usable. Why? Because this is not physical light. For eight days we light these candles to show us this, that it is not physical light that we use to find something that rolled into a dark corner of the room. But this is now symbolic of a spiritual light of total understanding. So that is why it is going to be once a year. And that is what the theme of Chanukah is.

 

And by the way the very root of the word Chanukah is Chenuk - which means education, wisdom, knowledge. And that is what we are celebrating here. That is what light means to almost anybody. There is also one other substance, on earth, in addition to light which is used as a metaphor of wisdom and knowledge. That is water. We heard, in English, expressions like: to be thirsty for knowledge. They don't say "hunger" for knowledge as much as they say "thirst" for knowledge. They speak of a "fountain" of information. A fountain of knowledge. Wells of wisdom. "Water" ties in to wisdom and knowledge, as well as "light" does. Which brings us, now, to the next question. Which is: If we already know that there has to be a holiday dedicated to the deeper light of total wisdom and understanding. And it has to be on the twenty-fifth of the month, because the twenty-fifth word is "light". And for other twenty-five reasons ...

 

The question is: Which month should it be in? Which month would you put it in? The third month, Kislev, also corresponds to the third tribe. What is the third tribe? What was the tribe that was victorious against the Greeks, much later? The tribe of Levi. And so, already, the third month is interesting because of the tie-in to the tribe that is going to be victorious against the Greeks. But, the third month has more to it than that. Our father Abraham gave a specific sign, a heavenly sign, every month of the year. Not everybody knows that the astrological signs have a Jewish origin. And that is why people are confused because an astrological sign runs from the twenty-fourth of September to the twenty-third of October, they are trying to match up with the Hebrew month. Each astrological sign belongs to a Hebrew month. Does anyone know what the astrological sign for the month of Kislev is? Sagittarius, the archer. Now here is the difficulty: Who do you think gave it the name Sagittarius? Abraham did not go around saying it was the archer. He did not say, "I think that I'll give the third month the name 'Sagittarius'". Abraham gave it another name. Who do you suppose gave it the name 'Sagittarius'? The Greeks! Now, there is something interesting that you have to know about the Greeks, and we are going to see more of that this evening as well. Were the Greeks anti-Semitic in today’s conventional understanding of the word? Yes, but spiritually - that's all. And so as people and as people capable of understanding development they certainly did not want to be difficult, but, they did want to extract the spiritual meaning out of Judaica.

 

Now just to see an example of how effectively they did this. I'll give you some interesting information. First, what are the three spiritual letters in the Hebrew alphabet? yod, hay, and vav. Those are the three letters that comprise God's name. Now "hay" is the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Now lets see what the Greeks did: Alpha, beta, gamma, delta. Then instead of taking an "h" sound, they have epsilon, and the Gemara explains that the whole reason that the "h" sound belongs to God is because it sound is like a breath. So, the Greeks destroyed the "h" and replaced it with an "s". And that is why to this day: what is one of the words you'll find on Greek statues, the name of a Greek - Helena. But, they do not pronounce the "h" because they do not have an "h", they destroyed it. They wanted an alphabet without the letter "hay". Good, what is the next letter that should be there after epsilon? Vav, because that is a holy letter they omitted it and skipped right over it. So what is the next Hebrew letter? So they went from epsilon to zeta. "Hay" and "vav" they demolished. Then when we come to yod they changed that also to iota. And the take away the "yod" sound. Anything that is spiritual has to be extracted. So, when the Greeks took the month of Kislev they took away the Hebrew name, for the month, and gave it Sagittarius, a Greek name. They did that with all of the months. After all the month of Adar, the Hebrew name is "twins" and the Greek name is Gemini, which is also twins. So, they did not see it necessary to change that.

 

What was Sagittarius original name? In some old astrology books, to this day, you will still see the original name. The original name is Rainbow. Why? Because as Rashi points out in the sedra for the flood: What was the month that the flood stopped? On the twenty-eighth of Kislev. And when was the first time that the rainbow is mentioned in history? Right there after the flood. So, that is why the rainbow belongs there. Why did the rainbow have to change to Sagittarius? What do the two have to do with one another? Simple. What does the rainbow represent? The general rule, in the Torah, if you want to get some insight into peoples names is turn the name around backward. This will give you the adjective to describe what the person did. So, for example, Noach: If you read "Noach" backwards you got the root letters of the word "chen". Which means - we don't know what it means, but, we do know that it is something good because God says that Noach found chen in God's eyes. So chen is something good, it would seem. There is a terribly interesting individual called "Laban". You might have been tricked because his name means "white". If you really want to know what his name means you've got to read it backwards. What is that? Nabal. In Hebrew - "despicable". And so it is throughout the Torah. So Noach has plenty to do with Chanukah. But now back to the rainbow. Why did the Greeks change it from rainbow to Sagittarius? The answer is simple. Now think, for a moment back to the day when you watched westerns. What is the symbol of peace? If the native American wanted to say peace: If he wanted to say no more war. He took his tomahawk and he held it out handle first. How many of you had mothers who told to hand a knife to someone handle first? Why? You would have to be an idiot to grab a knife blade first. A person can hold a knife blade first and you can reach around and take it by the handle. It is not a problem. If somebody handles it by the blade, it could be anybody...The reason is that it just isn't polite. If you push a knife blade first to somebody, it is threatening. If you push a knife towards somebody handle first, it is a peaceful gesture.

If an archer is about to shoot: which side of the bow is the business end? The convex side or the concave side? The convex side! If you find yourself facing an archer and you can see the convex side, of the bow, you had better get out of the way because you are in the wrong place. The concave side means that he is holding his bow pointing at himself and therefore he is showing you peace. And therefore if God wants to take His bow, from which He shot a flood at us, and He wants to point it at Himself so as to show us the peace side, which way does He have to put the rainbow? Just the way that it is - shooting upwards at Himself. And that is why it is a sign of peace to us. The Greeks came along and said, "we are not having any God rainbows over here...". We will have a human bow. Everybody understood that the rainbow is God's archery covenant. They said, "we are not doing that". We are putting a human in that place. The Greeks introduced the idea of fashioning gods in the image of people. And that's why they took the original month of Kislev and swapped it for Sagittarius. The Greek name is the humanized version.

 

Now what's the rainbow? What's that got to do with anything? I'm still explaining why there had to be a month of the rainbow. There has got to be a month of Kislev if you want a holiday of lights which celebrates the knowledge of wisdom and understanding. What two things make a rainbow? Light and water. The two things that are metaphors for wisdom and knowledge. And you put light and water together and you get a rainbow. Exactly what we are talking about. And there we have the date of the twenty-fifth of Kislev when the holiday of Chanukah has to be.

 

Now, if the holiday of Chanukah is about deeper wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, would it be speaking more about the written Torah or more about the oral Torah? Speaking more about the oral Torah because that is the deeper knowledge and understanding. And by the way, the Greeks would have had no objection to the written Torah, it is the oral Torah that is the edge of the problem for them. So, therefore we are going to go on now beyond what we have already established which is that there was originally a holiday, before the Greeks, to celebrate light which is wisdom and knowledge and understanding and therefore has to be on the twenty-fifth day of the eighth month and what's more has to be on the twenty-fifth day of the third month. And that is why it is going to be the third of the twelve tribes that is going to become the saving force in later events, in history, which will revolve around Chanukah.

 

We still want to take a look, now, at what the holiday is all about. And surely to do that we would want to go look at the oral Torah. Because in the written Torah we may well have the very powerful reminder and powerful hints. The twenty-fifth word is the word for light. and we know that after all of the holidays are listed in sequence, after Succoth come mention of lighting the menorah. And there is something more than that, also, which we will look at. What does the word Chanukah spell, if you write it out? "Chanuk kape", "they kept on the twenty-five". Let's think about that for a moment. When the Jewish people kept on the way through, from Egypt, they camped in different places. Which parsha details the camp site? Numbers. You will be amazed if you start counting the camp sites. Guess what the twenty-fifth camp site is called? What name do we give to the descendants of Levi that vanquished the Greeks? What do we call them? We call them the Maccabees. But, they were the dynasty of the Hasmoneans (Hashmonah in Hebrew). Do you know what the twenty-fifth campsite is?

 

Numbers 33:29  They left Mithcah and camped at Hashmonah.       

 

Hashmonah, of course! This is what we are talking about. Every thing, in the Torah, that has to do with twenty-five will point a finger at Chanukah. Is that strange? Now, we want some more information on the subject. Where do we find material on Chanukah in the Talmud? What part of the Talmud? In tractate Shabbat. Which chapter in the tractate Shabbat? The twenty-fifth chapter! It turns out that there is only one record, on Chanukah, in the whole Mishna. There is only one reference in the whole Mishna. Want to here it? in the tractate of bahamara. the end of the sixth chapter is the following story:

 

This is the story of a blacksmith who is working in his shop. I am walking down the road outside his store. It is a little alley. Have you ever seen a blacksmith's forge: sometimes they turn a crank. For what? What does it do? It makes sparks fly out of the forge. He turns this crank which blows air through the forge just when I am walking past. A spark flies out and singes my jacket. Who pays? Who's liability is it? The blacksmith's liability, says the Mishna. 

 

What happens, if in another case, I am walking down an alley and all of sudden I see that my pants are on fire. What happened was that somebody left a candle burning in the public thoroughfare outside the rear of his store. Who's responsible now? Me, because I should have looked where I was going, or, the store keeper for putting a candle out in the public thoroughfare? The store keeper, because I am entitled to expect that a public thoroughfare is free of obstacles. I am entitled to expect a public thoroughfare that has no hazards. Rabbi Yehuda says that there is one exception to that. The candles of Chanukah. For the candles of Chanukah who is liable? Me, because the candles of Chanukah are supposed to be out in public and you are supposed to watch out. That's it. End of story. That's the only mention of Chanukah in the whole Mishna.

 

Korban means sacrifice. Let's see what the very first Korban in history was made up of. Hebrew has a way of letting you find the hidden meaning of words. What you have got to do is break down the word into it's letters and look at each letter. So, what's the first letter of Korban? Kuf. Now the first letter of the name "kuf" is the letter "kuf" which belongs to Korban. But, what is the hidden letter of the word "kuf"? Am I losing you? (yes).

 

OK, let me give you an example: Take the word: dog. It would be as if (and there is no significance in any other language in doing this; only in Hebrew) It would be as if in English I said, "what is the hidden meaning of dog. To find this out you would take the first letter of "dog" and spell it out. Which is "dee". Now the "d" you can't use because it is part of the word "dog". But, the hidden aspect of the letter "dee" is the end of it's name which is "e". Now we take the letter "o" for dog. The middle letter. And spell it out; which is "oh". Which is the hidden letter? the "h". Now we take the last letter of "dog" which is "g" and spell it out which is "geigh" and um.... lots of laughter. So, that's the idea.

 

Now, let's take the word "Korban". This is now a sacrifice. The first sacrifice of history. Korban - "kuf", the hidden letter then is "hay". The next letter, in Korban, is "resh". The hidden letter is "shin". The next letter of Korban is "bet". The hidden letter is "ta". So far we have "hay", "shin", and "ta". The last letter of Korban is "nun". The hidden letter is "nun". So, what is the hidden meaning of the word "sacrifice"? Ishta: which means flax. And so that is why Rashi there says that the fruit of the earth that the agricultural kind that he brought for his sacrifice was flax. What did his brother bring? It didn't say he brought sheep, because people were not giving animals yet. We did not have permission to kill animals until after the flood. But, this time it says that he brought "from" his sheep. so, what did he bring? Wool! Exactly! Now this raises an interesting point which is "shatnes" - wool and flax. There is a very important rule, in the Torah, which says that you mustn't wear clothing made up of wool and linen. No mixture of wool and linen. Now what does that have to do with anything? By the way, once we are on the subject; the sefer Torah is written magnificently, not only are the letters beautifully formed, but, seven letters have been crowned. So there are certain seven letters, when ever those letters appear, whenever one of these seven letters appear the letter is written with a beautiful crown above it. What are the seven letters? "Shin, Ayin, tet, nun, zayin; those are five out of the seven. There are only another two: gimel and sai. The flax story keeps on showing up. So the flax story shows up with Cain and Able - who fight. Then it shows up as a reference to Jacob and Esau. And it shows up again in the context of Chanukah. And while we are at it: it also shows up with another two brothers who fought. Not only Cain and Abel, who fought to the death. Not only Jacob and Esau who fought.

 

There is another set of brothers who did not get on too well with one another. Isaac and Ishmael. What does that have to do with flax? There is a psalm that goes, "A woman of valor, who can find...". Who composed that section? Solomon? Solomon reported it, but, it was composed by Abraham. He said that it was a eulogy to his wife Sarah, when she died. And every line refers to another incident in the life of Sarah. For example: she caused a field to be purchased - acquired. How did she do that? She died! Then it says: She inquired into wool and flax. What are wool and flax a metaphor for? Two brothers who don't get along too well. Remember she was the one told Abraham to get rid of Ishmael. She could tell the difference between the wool and the flax. "Thou shalt send out Ishmael". Isn't that beautiful?

 

So, this theme of shatnes shows up with Cain and Abel: two brothers who couldn't handle it. Two brothers: Isaac and Ishmael. Two brothers: Jacob and Esau. And Chanukah... So what do you think it is telling us about the true fight on Chanukah is about. Between Jews and Greeks? No, it was a civil war between Jews and Jews! So that's the primary thing. Josephus, for what it is worth, tells us, in "History of the Jews", that one of the most popular plastic surgery operations, in Jerusalem, at that time was replacing the foreskin because Jewish men were embarrassed not to have a foreskin for the race. So, Josephus says that a lot of doctors got rich putting back the foreskins. It was a Jewish problem at Chanukah. Not Jews and non-Jews. The problem was Jews who wanted to adopt a Greek way of life. We don't have a problem with Greeks adopting a Greek way of life. That is what they should do. The problem is that is what the Jews wanted to do. So we got a message here, that this shatnes theme: this theme of wool and flax has to do with brother fighting brother: Cain and Able, Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Ishmael. So, not surprisingly, in the context.

 

This is wonderful. I am going to read to you the verse in the Torah which says you mustn't wear clothing of wool and flax. A very important thing. Here is what it says: The clothing made out of the mixture of shatnes, (which is wool and flax), should not get onto you. Do you know what the very next door sentence is? The phrase that is just before this? Love your brother, your close one, like yourself. That's the juxtaposition of the light and the darkness. The two alternatives are that you either love your brother like yourself or alternatively there is the civil war theme. Brother fighting brother.

 

So, that is part of the insight into Chanukah that the Mishna is trying to give us. When Rabbi Yehuda just puts one mention of Chanukah in he says on this whole story of flax and everything, that on the nights of Chanukah it is okay and the camel drive is liable because the shop keeper is allowed to put the candle of Chanukah outside. That leads us into a cool analysis of what is really going on.

 

The paradox of Purim and Chanukah is that at Purim the enemy attacked us physically and we responded spiritually: we prayed. At Chanukah the enemy attacked us spiritually and we responded physically. That's the paradox of Purim and Chanukah.

 

The theme, obviously then, that we are dealing with is light and it's juxtaposition is darkness. When we spoke of the dark ages in Europe. Do we mean that somehow the sun did not rise during that period? What does darkness mean? It is the opposite of what the light bulb means. Darkness: the dark ages, in Europe, were ages of ignorance. It was a bad time. And so Chanukah then is the juxtaposition of light and of darkness. Where, in the Torah, do we have a most interesting juxtaposition of light and darkness? Obviously right at the beginning as I have already read. When God said, "let there be light". When was the next time when we have the most fascinating juxtaposition of light and darkness in Jewish history? The ten plagues. The ninth plague was the plague of darkness. And it says in the Torah that darkness was everywhere in Egypt with one exception. The one place it wasn't was...? In the land of Goshen. In Goshen there was no darkness. And how does the Torah spell Goshen? For example the very first time we get there is when Jacob is arriving, coming down to Egypt with all his children, all his family, his wagons, his son Joseph, etc. He sent Yahuda ahead to show the way to Goshen.

 

Do you know how it is spelled there? Gimel, shin, nun, hay - to the land of the lights. Do those letters mean anything to you? They are the letters on the dreidle that we play with at Chanukah. So, just to clarify that point: there are explanations that we give to children in Hebrew school which are fine to give to children in Hebrew school. The problem is when we start believing that they are the answers. It is one of the great tragedies of Jewish life in America today that most American Jewish adults are walking around with Hebrew school's level of Jewish knowledge. As a result of that many people out there truly believe that the nun, gimel, hay, shin on the dreidle spells nays gadol haya sham - which is nonsense. It is complete nonsense because it means "a great miracle happened there". Why there? It was in Israel that it happened. Not anywhere else. And the dreidle goes back all the way to the beginning. So, do you know what they actually do? Some people make dreidles that have a "pay" instead of a "shin".  

 

The two most famous producers of olives in the world are Greece and Israel. Now when you look on the hill sides of Greece you will see old olive trees. And they are very proud of them because they go back a long time. And if you look at the hills of Israel you will see old olive trees. Why? What is the secret of the olive tree? What is so special about them? When was the first time we saw the olive? Noah. So, we are back to Noah again. And who brought the olive? The dove. Now does anyone know what the olive stands for throughout the Talmud? Peace. Not only peace, but, it has also come to mean the Jewish people. The Jewish people are classified as the olive. And that why the Zohar explains on... Why did Noah send out the raven? He sent the raven out as a punishment. The raven had misbehaved. That's a different story: not for tonight. That was a trick question. (lots of laughter). Why did he send the raven out? I'll give you a clue what the raven did. It's a joke I really should have told during my three week ten commandment series, but, I was too serious. I couldn't tell it then. It was a joke about how Moses came down to the Jewish people and said, "I have bad news for you and good news for you". The good news is that I have got Him down to only ten. The bad news is that adultery is still on the list. (lots of laughter). So, that gives you a clue about what the raven was supposed to do. Why did Noah send out the raven? To see if the waters had subsided yet. What does it say there when the dove came back the first time? Do you remember what it said? It did not find any resting place. It just had to keep flying around. Do you see why the dove is compared to the Jewish people. The next time the dove came back he brought an olive branch. Now let's look at this word "olive". What's really interesting about it is that once again if you look at that Hebrew word it's the Jewish people. But, what's it made out of? What is the word "yovanh (olive) made out of? The hay is one of the letters for God's name. And what are the first three letters? Yod, vav, nun. This makes Yovan - Greece. And by the way, that is the original name of Greece. Do you know what the old classical name for Greece use to be? Ionia. Where did they get Ionia from? Yod, vav, nun. Ionia, that's where it's from. And what does a yod, vav, nun look like if you think about it? There is a little stick and a longer stick and a longer stick. Doesn't it look like everything that led the Greek culture - just a bunch of hulks of different races. The dove is that yovan. But, HaShem’s name is in it as well. Where is that link between Jew and Greek - first of all. The very first interface between Greece and Israel is when the - again after the flood. Two of Noah's sons got together and did something very nice. One was Shem, one was Japheth. And they tried to rectify a very dreadful thing that was done by Noah's third son, Ham. The important news is that Japheth and Shem worked together as brothers. Now, who are the descendents of Shem? We are that is why we are called Shemites. And who is descended from Japheth? Yovan - the Greeks come from Japheth which is why they have a recognized eye for the esthetic. Because the word Japheth means beautiful.

 

And so, HaShem says there that God has a special relationship with Japheth. And there is going to be something of a relationship between these two. The question is what sort of relationship? And the relationship turns into a relationship of tension between Jerusalem and Athens. It's a tremendous tension. We are going to try to understand now some examples of where that tension lies. One of the things that the Greek authorities banned - they did not ban that much when they came into Israel. They did not destroy the Temple. How much damage did they do to the Temple? A few dollars. They broke some seals. They did not spill the oil. It's hard to say that there is any monetary value attached to that. Go to a judge and tell why they ruined your oil by opening the seal. And then what they did was make thirteen holes - the Talmud says thirteen gaps in a small little lattice-work barrier that existed in the Temple. They did not destroy it, they just made some doorways in it: thirteen holes.

 

So, they were very nice people, they did not make any damage. But, they did object to certain of our customs. Three, to be specific. There are three things that they prohibited the practice of. The first one was to observe Rosh Chodesh. That's bizarre. Why, of all the things we do should they be so obsessed about stopping the practice of observing the new moon? They did for the following reasons: The passage of the new moon makes the Jewish people aware of the passage of time. That's what the moon does. The moon is a basic time clock. It tells us that time is going by. To the Greeks the passage of time is anathema! They hate the movement of time. To a Jew timing is everything. Have you ever heard that expression: Timing is everything? If you find a great new way to make a buggy whip except that it is ten years after Henry Ford started making new cars: you just blew it. Because timing is everything. Greeks don't like feeling time. To give you an example: You have always thought of them as good mathematicians right? But their mathematics revolve chiefly around geometry. Which are plain figures which don't go anywhere. As soon as you deal with things that move, the Greeks have a tremendous problem with them. So much so that in the Greek academies they used to have a paradox they studied called Zeno's paradox. Zeno's paradox is very simple. Achilles, the great Greek athlete could run, shall we say, ten times faster than a particular tortoise. And so this tortoise challenged Achilles to a race. And the tortoise said that as long as you give me a ten meter start, I will win the race. So, Achilles says great, you can have a ten meter start. You start over there at the end. The course will be to the end of the block. I'll start over here. And here is the paradox: since Achilles runs ten times faster than the tortoise, when Achilles reaches the place the tortoise started from, ten meters ahead: where is the tortoise now? The tortoise is now one meter ahead. When Achilles reaches the point one meter ahead: where is the tortoise now? Ten centimeters ahead. When Achilles reaches that point ten centimeters ahead: where is the tortoise now? One centimeter ahead. When Achilles covers that one centimeter: where is the tortoise? One millimeter ahead. You see, Achilles will never beat the tortoise. What's wrong with the logic? The answer is that if you study that paradox, using time, instead of using separate stationary snapshots. Because in each stationary snapshot the tortoise is ahead. Because in between the two snapshots Achilles overtook the tortoise. But they don't know movies, they only know stills. Do you know what the best example of Greek hatred for the passage of time is confirmed by the English poem "peace". What is he glorifying in there? The fact that the young lovers portrayed on the earth will stay that way forever. No passage of time. The Greeks see no beauty in two people growing old together. To the Greek only eternal youth. What is the chemical hair coloring that is sold more than any other, in the United States? Grecian formula. Because that is basic to an understanding of how the Greeks think.

 

Now what is the form of romantic love most favored by the Greeks. Homosexuality. And it is called the "Greek way". The Greeks gave it to the world. They gloried in it. If you say the "Greek way", everybody knows what that means. Now what is better about living with a man rather than living with a woman? If you are a Greek what is so terrific about living with a man and terrible about living with a woman? If you look at a woman you have to be aware of the passage of time. If you look at a man, there is no such thing as cycles, you are not aware of the passage of time. And even better than that, there are no such thing as children. And children will run like small walking alarm clocks. You ask my wife what year we did you and your husband do this? How is she going to figure out the year. The kids. She will figure out what age the child was and calculate from there. Because children are like little calendars or little alarm clocks. And so Greeks don't want them around. So, consequently, Rosh Chodesh as the basic Jewish observance of time had to be banned.

 

Another thing that Jews had that was pretty obvious was circumcision. Firstly, to the Greeks it was an esthetic disfigurement of natural beauty because natural beauty, to them, was anything the way it naturally was. Anything that the human being did, made it worse. There approach was to leave human being's contribution out of it. Out of it if is that God and man are partners. God makes little boys, but, we have the job of finishing off the job. We are participators on the eighth day. So, the Greeks tried to ban circumcision. Let's look at that for a moment. The Greeks obsession  with circumcision, so much so that they managed to make us feel embarrassed about it. What does a little boy get on the eighth day? I know what he loses, but, what does he gain? He gets a name: or in Hebrew "shame". Now if you add just one letter to the word "name", in Hebrew - "shame", you get the word "sheman". Which is what we are discussing which is having to do with Chanukah which is also eight days long, by the way. It is an eight day holiday. Now, while we are up to "sheman" add a letter hay to the end, and what have you got? "Shemanah". Which is eight itself. And to just really lock things in, if you take the eighth letter of the Hebrew alphabet which is hay, and stick it in the front of the word you have Hashemanah. Which was Rebecca of the Hasmoneans. So, the essence of circumcision was something that the Greeks had to object to.

 

They want to object to one more thing, as well, which is the observance of Shabbat. If you were to go to a Greek and say that I want to rest. I don't mind working six days, and I'll rest on the seventh day. He would have said that was fine. Do you know when he would get upset? You have to look at the tractate of Shabbat. If you really want to experience Shabbat; how many things should you refrain from doing? thirty-nine. Which is the key one? The paramount one that is dealt with right up front? It is not the first in the listing, but, it is the first one that the tractate, of Shabbat, deals with. Do you know what it is? The carrying of something on private property and public property. So, if you told the Greek that you wanted to rest on the seventh day, you would have no trouble. You would only have trouble when you are about to go for a walk with him and you are about to leave your house. You reach into your pocket to get your keys and leave them in your house. He says, "what are you doing?" Oh, Shabbat is about making a distinction between private and public property, and so I do not want to take them out. That's when he would get upset. Why? Because the Greeks despise distinctions between public and private property. If you notice Greek architecture: what is distinctive about the Parthenon? Open spaces. It is very hard to know when you are inside and when you are outside. What is Chanukah all about? Where are you supposed to put the menorah? In the window. If you have a choice of windows you should put it right opposite the mezuzah by your front door. It is the guardian of that point at which public property ends and private property begins. And that is why it is required to be put there. The Greeks want to see things with no distinctions there at all. 

 

Which brings us to the last area that we are going to have time for tonight. And that is another area where there is tension between Jerusalem and Athens. That is an economic area. If you notice once we are talking about private property and public property; who says no private property - everything should be the same? Communism. And where does communism find it's spiritual roots more than in any other book? Plato's republic. That's the key to it because if there is no distinction between private and public, then there are no limits on the power of the soviet.

 

So, let's take a look at a very weird halachah. This seems to perpetuate the worse stereotypes that people have about us. This is what it says. I mentioned earlier that on Friday night you can use the Shabbat candles: you must use them (for light). On Chanukah you mustn't use those candles for light. So, if you need to be in a room where Chanukah candles are burning: what must you do? Turn on the lights. So that you will use the light from the main lights. To drive home this point that you mustn't use these lights when eating, you might say that you shouldn't even use them to eat, pray, or study Torah. But, that is not what it says. It says you mustn't even use Chanukah lights for counting up your money. What? All we do, day and night, is count our money? That is what we are in to? Isn't it bizarre? Another example that points in the same direction: the halachah wants to tell you what time it is appropriate for the Chanukah candles to be lit. What is the normal way the halachah, throughout Jewish law, defines time. Tell me I should light the candles between half an hour and an hour after the sun sets. That's easy enough. Do you know what it says there? The Chanukah candles must be lit during the time when Jews are working in the market place. There you are; counting money and market place. What does that have to do with anything? It has to do with a great gift which Jacob gave the world. That root word of Chanukah which is het, nun, hay  - you were all wondering what hay means? What does "hay" mean; favor grace? Sorry. It doesn't make sense because the most regular place we Jews use the word hay is where? What do we say, usually several times a day? Baruch atah HaShem elohein melach haolam hazan et al. Thank you God for feeding the whole world. Thank you for feeding the whole world with your mercy and goodness. What are you feeding me with Your hay for? What's hay? How does God feed us with hay? It's a big mystery: the root of Chanukah. And what present do we give to all the children? Money: Chanukah geld. And that's the stuff that you are not supposed to count if front of the Chanukah candles. And you talk at the market place. And the one place the Torah uses the hay as a verb is when Jacob comes to the town of Shechem. He invented, for that city, money, currency, and markets. He invented an economic system for that city. By the way, what is the numerical value for Shechem? 360. Do you remember that we had 36 candles. And now the city of Shechem where a lot of the Chanukah story takes place having to do with Joseph. So, we have 36 candles and 360 in the number of Shechem. In what year did the events of Chanukah take place? 3600. And we have got this lead running throughout. Private property, public property, economics and - what does oil itself represent? Wealth. A certain kind of wealth.

 

Look at the olive. Remember that olive that the dove brought to Noah? This dove it say the Midrash makes a statement at that point: it says I would much rather eat olives than honey. Says the dove which is the Jewish people. I would much rather eat olives than honey. You see honey tastes sweet on the outside and that's it. What you see is what you get. There is nothing else to it. But an olive looks sour and unappealing on the outside. Inside, when you squeeze it, what comes out? Oil which is light, which is wisdom, which is the root of the month of Kislev. If you check the etymology of "castle" you'll find that it comes from Kislev. Why? Because the Hebrew word "castle" means a castle or security. It means security. Now what type of security are we getting at? Well the theme of Chanukah is wisdom and knowledge and understanding - are we getting physical security? Does being smart mean that the local bully will not kill you? Of course not. What sort of security can you get from wisdom and education? Financial security. The key to financial security is education, wisdom, and knowledge. And that is the current theme of money throughout the story of Chanukah.

 

So, ladies and gentlemen I thank you for your patience.            

 

 


This speech was given by Rabbi Daniel Lapin and transcribed by Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian.

 

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