Sunday, December 21, 2008

It's All Greek To Me

Since it is now Chanukkah, I feel an obligation to discuss a Chassidic insight into the chag. I am discussing a piece that appears in the Pri Tzaddik, which is R. Tzaddok of Lublin’s (1823-1900) commentary on the Parshah and the Moadim. (For the remainder of Sefer Bereshit, most of my Chassidut entries will come from this sefer because it is one of the few Seforim that I have actually unpacked.) R. Tzaddok primarily focuses on explaining the connection between the Torah sh’Baal Peh and Chanukkah. He relies on the well known drashah that connects the light of the Channukkah candles to the light of the Torah.

The Lvush and others have pointed out that the Greeks did not want to physically destroy the Jewish people, but rather they wanted to spiritually eliminate Judaism. Thus, they sought to eliminate the study of the Torah from Judaism, because it is the spiritual source of Judaism. When the Hasmoneans defeated the Greeks, they also defended Judaism against Greek culture. The miracle of the light of the menorah is also the miracle of the victory of the Torah against Greek culture. All of this is the background for the chidush and insight of R. Tzaddok. (By the way, I am planning to make a separate post about why it is legitimate to discuss one idea disconnected from a long drasha. But a friend told me, “Oh yeah, I’ll look at your blog when you actually say something new.” I admit to being a little obsessed with introductions.)

R. Tzaddok states that Channukah also highlights the dichotomy between Greek philosophy and the Torah sh’Baal Peh. (zot leumat zot) In other words, the Oral Torah can be described as the act of interpreting the written Torah. Thus, when we learn Torah we are engaging in the following process: we use our God-given intellectual ability to legally and philosophically understand and apply the Torah to our world. (The legal application is controlled by the Rabbinic “we”.) Greek philosophy engages in the same process; however it is creating a legal and philosophical framework which is completely devoid of (and contradicts) the Torah. Thus, according to R. Tzaddok the holiday of Chanukkah and the mitzvah of lighting the menorah celebrates the intellectual victory of the Torah sh’Ba’al Peh over Greek philosophy. Finally, R. Tzaddok emphasizes that Channukah is the time of the year which renews our connection to the Torah sh’Baal Peh.

Channukah Sameach

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