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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Dec. 18, 2006 / 27 Kislev, 5767

Self-Mastery: The View From Chanukah

By Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen


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We are all aware that there is a war going on, and I suspect that many of us sense that this war is not taking place in a historical vacuum but rather is somehow part of a much larger war. There is something inside us that says — this war doesn't just transcend borders, it transcends eras. We are locked in a battle that not only has military and political ramifications, but historic, spiritual implications. The holiday that we are now celebrating is also about a war, and again this wasn't just a war that took place "once upon a time.''

This was a war that continues to have a profound impact on every one of us, and on the entire Jewish people.

On another level, on the individual personal level, we are also at war with ourselves. You see, war is the metaphor for the basic condition of human existence. Consider the words of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, better known as the Ramchal, in ''The Path of the Just"


``When one thinks carefully, it is clear that true human perfection lies in being deeply connected to G-d. This is what King David meant when he said, `As for me, the only thing I consider to be good in life, is being close to G-d' ... And anything else that people may imagine to be good is nothing but an illusion ... G-d has placed people in a situation where there is an abundance of things that threaten to distance a person from G-d. These are our physical desires; the desires that if we allow ourselves to be ruled by them we will be led away from true goodness. Clearly, man is engaged in an actual war, a fierce battle ..."

THE BODY AND SOUL OF WAR
The Ramchal tells us in a number of places throughout his writings that not only are we locked in a pitched battle in life but also what the nature of this battle is. The Ramchal explains that a human being is an absolutely unique creature. The human being, unlike all other beings, is not homogeneous in nature. A stone or a dog are homogenous, they are both completely physical through and through. We human beings, on the other hand, are altogether different. We human beings are the fusion of two completely distinct creatures. These two creatures have nothing in common, it's as if they are from two different planets, yet they have been woven together by a miracle.

If G-d himself would not have brought these two incompatible elements together, there is no way they could have naturally co-existed. On the one hand, each of us is an animal. In this way, Darwin was not wrong. The body, with all its physiological and biological functions is certainly animalistic. Yet, at the same time that we are animal-like, woven into every fiber of the human body is its mate, its partner; a separate creature called the neshoma (a soul). In terms of their basic natures, the body and the neshoma could not be more different. If ever there was an odd couple, it is the body and the soul. It is literally a miracle that the two are able to mesh and form one seamless creature — the human being.

The neshoma is not a metaphor or a theological concept. It is a being. There is a neshoma and there is a guf, a body, and they are two totally separate creatures. Each has its own distinctive identity. Each has its own personality and way of behaving. The body and the soul have fundamentally different perspectives on reality, and relate to reality in profoundly different ways.

The neshoma is altruistic; it has a long-term perspective, values kindness, wants to pursue goodness, and longs to serve and to relate to Hashem. The body is self-centered and selfish. Its perspective only operates in the immediate short term. It wants Haagen-Dazs, a day spa, and a good nap, and it wants them now! This is the nature of the body. It just can't relate to all those other things the soul is so interested in.

There is another difference between the body and soul. The soul speaks in a whisper. The soul expresses itself and offers all its good advice — "think of others, be kind and patient; be a person of character and integrity, be positive'' — in a soft whisper. The neshoma is gentle and the voice of the neshama is a whisper. The body couldn't whisper to save its life. The body is a screamer. It speaks in loud, impatient, often shrill tones. There is simply nothing subtle about the way the body makes its demands. It's big and tough and has no compunction about throwing its weight around. It knows what it wants, and it doesn't care about little things like consequences or the needs of others. In a way, the body is a lot like a little child. It sees what it wants, it voices its desires in loud, clear unmistakable terms, and if it isn't immediately catered to, it starts to scream.

It is the colliding natures of these two creatures that gives rise to the inevitable ongoing battle in every human being. This inner battle is waged between giborim and chalashim; it is a war that pits the mighty against the weak. The truth is, that it's an unfair battle. The sensitive soul is no match for that big, bad, bully the body. It can't overpower the body, and its faint gentle whisper is always lost in the din of the ferociously loud screams of the body. If it were not for a miraculous thread woven into the fabric of the universe, our souls would always be hopelessly dominated by our bodies. I'll describe the miracle:

About one hundred fifty years ago, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the founder of the mussar (Jewish ethics) movement, discovered a small book entitled Cheshbon HaNefesh, authored by an unknown rabbi, Rav Mendel Zevarez. Rabbi Salanter was so taken with the book that he had it reprinted and encouraged people to study it carefully.

Today, Cheshbon HaNefesh is regarded as an important work on the topic of personal, ethical and spiritual development. In essence, it is a guidebook for overcoming and mastering one's nature. It's about how to uproot harmful, ingrained habits. It's about self-mastery and what it takes to become a tzaddik. Cheshbon HaNefesh is written in such clear and accessible terms that many people find it easier to relate to than many of the classical mussar works. In this beautiful little book, Rav Mendel Zevarez reveals that G-d wove into the universe a mechanism that enables the neshoma to overcome the body; that allows the weak to vanquish the mighty. The mechanism works like this:

MAKING THE IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE
We have all had the experience where we vow to change a habit, to cease and desist from a counter-productive way of living. For myself, all I have to do is think about the commitments and the ideals I espoused on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I was so inspired, so clear, so committed to doing things differently. I felt like nothing could stop me, but something did.

Something got in my way. I tried to live differently, and I failed. I remember telling myself that this year I was going to get to minyan on time. And I tried. For seven weeks I tried. But then this came up and then something else came up and before long, I was right back where I started. If you are like me, then there may have been a time when you committed to losing weight.

And we tried. And we are still trying. But it's just not happening. Those habits are just so difficult to break.

It is now several months since Rosh Hashanah and the reality is that I haven't kept my Yom Kippur commitments consistently. There have been more times than I want to admit when I slipped and fell. If it weren't for the teachings of Rav Mendel Zevarez I would be totally disheartened. In Cheshbon HaNefesh, Rav Mendel explains a principle that is like a spiritual life preserver. It enables us to stay afloat in our battle for personal growth, even when we are feeling like we are being overwhelmed by the overpowering strength of old habits.
FINDING THIS ESSAY BRILLIANT? THERE'S MORE WHERE THIS CAME FROM!


Buy "Inspiring Lights", the book from which this essay is excerpted, at a discount by clicking HERE.


Rav Mendel explains that there is no such thing as lost effort. Every time that I try to grow, every time I make an effort to create new, healthier habits for life, even if I fail, it's not a total loss.

When you think about it, this is astounding. Rav Mendel says that there exists a supernatural principle that every effort, even a seemingly unsuccessful effort, even a failure, creates an existential spiritual reality. Every effort we make is stored, like a drop of oil in a jar, and over time these drops begin to add up. There is a reality in the fabric of the universe that says — it doesn't matter if you fail as long as you keep trying. Every effort fills the jar a little more until one day it will explode in a flash of light and illuminate the darkness.

Rav Mendel Zevarez explains that it is this principle that makes it possible for the soul, despite its soft gentle nature, to overcome the mighty body. There would be no hope for the neshoma if it was not for the fact that our failed attempts actually create the potential for illuminating breakthroughs. In the natural order of things, the body would always dominate the soul, but in the supernatural order of things, as long as the soul keeps on trying — even when things don't go well — every effort adds potential power to the spiritual flame that will eventually overcome the body.

With this in mind, let's turn to the topic of Chanukah.

CHANUKAH QUESTIONS
To begin with, we need to appreciate that the goal of every Jew is to perfect our middos, our character, and to develop our potential. The holidays, therefore, are set up in such a way that if we understand, follow, and connect with their flow, then by the time we reach the year's end we will have achieved the most we can in growth and the refinement of our character for that year.

The holidays are a calendrical system designed to perfectly assist and direct us in our quest for growth. When it comes to Chanukah, the question is: precisely what window of opportunity opens during these eight days and what are we supposed to do in order to access the light of the holiday? How do we make Chanukah's light our own personal inner light?

My goal here is to present a very practical approach to accessing the potential of Chanukah, but in order to do that we need to first explore some fundamental concepts that are central to understanding the holiday. Once we understand the essence of Chanukah, then we can lay out a plan for tapping into all it has to offer in terms of our own growth and our deepening of our relationship with Hashem. Let's begin by looking at four questions:

Question #1
Everyone knows that in some way Chanukah is a celebration of the Jewish victory over the Greeks. The Greeks persecuted the Jews, the Jews resisted, and we are still here today to talk about it. The question, however, is why is this the only experience of Jewish survival in the face of persecution that we remember with a holiday? After all, there is no shortage of people who have tried and failed to destroy the Jews. Even if we just look at ancient Jewish history, you and I might look at the Jewish encounter with the Assyrians and say that those events are just as deserving as the confrontation with Greece to be memorialized as a holiday.

Think about it.

The Assyrian army, the most powerful force in the world at the time and numbering some 185,000 soldiers, arrived at the gates of Jerusalem around 701 BCE. This enormous force was encamped below Jerusalem and poised to unleash a holocaust. Their intention was to slaughter every man, woman and child in the city. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, all 185,000 Assyrian soldiers died in their sleep the night before the planned assault.

Of course there is a disagreement about exactly how this happened. Herodotus mentions something about an outbreak of bubonic plague. The Jewish historians told a different story. They said something about how an angel of the Lord went out and smote 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. But whatever it was, something astounding took place on that night. Nonetheless, that salvation was never elevated to the status of a holiday.

The same is true for the events of 135 CE when Bar Kochba led his revolt, or the survival of the Jews throughout the period of the Crusades, or the Inquisition — they never became holidays.

And even thinking in more recent terms, when the Soviet Union fell and millions of Jews were liberated from a regime that was determined to wipe out Judaism, it never occurred to anybody that we should make a holiday. Or perhaps there should be some sort of catch-all holiday marking the ongoing miracle of Jewish survival despite the relentless efforts of anti- Semites throughout the ages. Perhaps we should celebrate the Jewish refusal to succumb to the law of evolution of nations that grinds all other nations out of existence and that has constantly put pressure on the Jews, yet has never been successful.

So question number one is, why is the Jewish victory over the Greeks in 164 BCE the one event that we commemorate?

Question #2
It is very tempting to answer question number one in the same way the sages, in one of the few Talmudic passages that actually mentions Chanukah, do. The Talmud asks the following question, "mai Chanukah'' which means, ``What exactly is Chanukah?'' Now this is an odd question, because you would think that if anyone knows what Chanukah is about, it would be the sages of the Talmud. What's more, they never ask ``What's Passover?'' or ``What's Purim?'' How come they had such a problem with Chanukah? Rashi, the Biblical and Talmudic commentator par excellence, comes to the rescue and explains the Talmud's question as follows: ``Exactly what was the miracle that led to Chanukah being instituted as a holiday?''

The implication of this question is that there was more than one event that one might consider to be miraculous , but only one has satisfied the sages' criteria for a miracle worthy of a holiday. To that query the Talmud answers: ``Our rabbis taught that the 25th of Kislev begins the eight days of Chanukah. On those days eulogies are forbidden. Why? Because when the Greeks entered into the Holy Temple, they made impure all of the pure oils that were on reserve to be used in the menorah.''

The Talmud then goes on to sort of matter of factly report that when the Hasmonean family triumphed over the Greeks, they only found one jar of oil that was still sealed with a seal of the High Priest that was entirely free of impurity, and that could therefore be used in the menorah. We are also told that this one jar of oil was only enough to burn for one night. And then comes the grand conclusion. ``That night there was a miracle and they were able to light a small vial of oil, and a miracle happened and the candles burned for eight days.''

What we learn from this is that in the eyes of our sages, when a little jar of oil burns for seven days longer than expected, this is an occurrence worthy of the title ``miracle'' but when a vastly outnumbered band of ill-equipped Jews defeats the greatest military force in the world, that doesn't rise to the level of the miraculous.

This could possibly answer our first question, because although much of Jewish history could be viewed as miraculous, only Chanukah had the great miracle of the oil. The problem with this answer is that it begs another question: This is question number two: Why only in the conflict with Greece was there a miracle of lights? Why didn't a similar miracle take place at any other time in Jewish history?

Question #3
It would be one thing if the Talmud said that two miracles took place at the time of Chanukah, one a military victory and the other the burning of the oil. That, however, is not the Talmud's position. Rather the Talmud asserts that there was only one miracle — the oil! So question number three is: ``Why isn't the military victory considered a miracle at all?'' Why is that not called a nes (miracle) by the Talmud? And to make question #3 sharper, consider question #4:

Question #4
I want you to take a look at the special text found in the siddur, the prayer book, that relates to Chanukah. While reading, keep in mind that the sages who authored the prayers lived during the same era as those quoted in the Talmud.

``In the days of Matisyahu, the son of Yochanon, the High Priest, the Hasmonean, and his sons — when the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your will — You in Your great mercy rose up for them in the time of their travail. You took up their grievance, judged their claim, and avenged their wrong. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton into the hands of the diligent students of your Torah. For Yourself You made a great and holy name in Your world, and for Your people Israel You worked a great victory and salvation as this very day. Thereafter, Your children came to the Holy of Holies of Your abode, cleansed your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary, and kindled lights in the courtyards of Your holiness, and they established these eight days of Chanukah to express thanks and praise to Your great name.''

By the way, this prayer is known as ``Al Hanisim,'' the prayer ``Regarding Miracles.'' So, did anything catch your attention? Did you notice anything missing? There is not a single word about oil miraculously burning for eight days, not a word. If all you had to go by was the siddur, you would think that the whole holiday of Chanukah revolves around a miraculous military victory by a small group of ``weak'' Jews defeating the ``many'' and the ``mighty'' Greeks. So question number four is: Why, when the Talmud focuses only on the miracle of the oil, does the prayerbook then go and speak only about the military victory?

THINKING AGAIN
To answer these questions, we will need to look at three concepts. Then, once we understand the concepts, the answers will all fall into place. The three concepts are:

  • 1) What was the Greek view of human nature, and what was the essence of Greek culture?

  • 2) What are miracles really all about?

  • 3) What is the Jewish view of human nature, and what are the Jewish people really all about?

Here we go.

Issue #1:
The Greeks, more than any other nation in history, represented the natural, physical world. Religiously they were Pantheists; they literally worshipped nature, idolized the human body, and regarded the survival of the fittest as a holy principle.

The Greeks believed that since a man in battle was more powerful than a woman that men were somehow worthier than women. Also, because the strong, human form and survival of the fittest were core values, when a baby was born with any sort of a defect, physical or mental, it was left to die of exposure. The Greeks actually had religious rituals for killing such children.

They would take developmentally disabled babies and smash them against the rocks or throw them into the sea. In Greece, athletes were their priests, the gymnasium was the temple, and the strongest and fittest men were by far the most highly regarded people in society.

When the Jews resisted the Greeks, this was not just a case of one tiny nation standing up to a much larger nation. There was something more fundamental, more profound taking place. The Jews had an altogether different perspective on nature, and human nature, than the Greeks. The Jews had a bedrock belief in the supernatural, in a G-d that transcended nature, not in many G-ds who "operated" within nature.

The Jews drew their values and their entire value system from the supernatural, while the Greeks thought that the only thing super in life was the natural. The Jews viewed the physical body as a part of nature that needed to be confronted, refined, and elevated.

The challenge of human nature for the Jew was to harness physicality in the service of a higher ideal, not to be enamored with the body in and of itself. When the Jews went to war against the Greeks, this was a battle between a nation defined by the supernatural against a nation that was the embodiment of nature itself.

It could well be that what was unique about the events of Chanukah is that never before or since was there a conflict that more truly represented the Jewish battle in this world-the battle of the supernatural against the natural.

Now, our next issue.

Issue # 2:
Not all miracles are alike, in fact, there are actually two categories of miracles.

There is a famous story in the Talmud about Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa. On Friday afternoon, the daughter of Rabbi Chanina set up her Shabbos (Sabbath) candles and lit them. Then, after they were lit, she realized that she had inadvertently used vinegar instead of oil. When her father came home from synagogue she was very depressed. She was sitting on the couch and her father walked in and said, what's wrong? ``Papa, I grabbed vinegar instead of the oil and when the wicks burn down, the lights will go out.'' Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa said, ``My daughter, He who makes oil burn, will make vinegar burn.''

The Talmud concludes by saying that the candles burned throughout the entire Shabbos. With this story the Talmud is telling us that it is actually a miracle when oil burns. ``He who makes oil burn will make vinegar burn.'' If oil burns for no other reason than that is the Will of G-d, then vinegar, water, or Coca-Cola could burn too, if that was what G-d wanted.

It turns out that there are two classes of miracles. Class one miracles are unmistakable. They're very big and very out of the ordinary. The Hebrew word for this kind of miracle is nes. The word nes literally means a sign or banner, and that's exactly what class one miracles are all about. Class one miracles call out to us and say, ``Hey, folks, good morning, wake up, it's Me, G-d. You know, the One who created the world in the first place and who still runs the show.'' Every big nes is a banner that tells us that just as we know that it is G-d who splits the sea, it's also G-d who ``makes the oil burn.''

Think about it. Why is it that when I pick up a pen and drop it, the pen falls? Of course you could say gravity, but that just begs the question, ``Why does gravity exist at all?'' For that matter, why does the earth spin? Why do hearts beat? Why are babies born? The bottom line is, the whole thing is a nes, a miracle.

It is just that when a phenomenon happens again and again on a regular and predictable basis, we slap a label on that says ``gravity,'' as if we have explained something. And once there is a label in place, the occurrence will never again catch our attention or seem very special at all.

The principle is that there are two classes of miracles: class one are the ``banner'' miracles, the miracles that catch our attention. Class two are those miracles that are so elegantly woven into the fabric of nature that we think of them as, well, natural.

Issue #3:
Life is a war. A war between the body and the soul. A war in which the soul appears to have little chance of victory. Sound familiar? This is where we began our discussion, with a principle taught by Rav Mendel Zevarez. You'll recall that the principle was that when it comes to trying to overcome the urges of the body and live like a soul, no matter how many setbacks we have, they aren't failures. Every single attempt at overcoming our physical nature, even ``failed'' attempts, actually contain powerful sparks of victory within them. And, these sparks have the ability, over time, to join forces and enable us to ultimately rise above our physical nature and embrace our transcendent nature — our super nature.

CHANUKAH QUESTIONS: ANSWERING OUR QUESTIONS
With all of this in mind, with an understanding that with the Greeks we were fighting nature; with the understanding that there are different kinds of miracles in the world, and with an understanding of how we overcome our nature by continuously trying even when we fail, we can now answer the questions we first posed.

In 164 BCE, the Jews, representing the supernatural will of the Torah, went to war against the Greeks who represented the deification of nature. Now picture the scene of the supernaturalist approach to fighting the naturalists. The Greeks were standing on the highways with AK47's and they were slaughtering Jews right and left. They had already taken the Old City of Jerusalem. There was no hope. It was finished. And how did we fight back? We gave our baby boys a bris milah (circumscion), we kept Shabbos, and we sanctified the new month. We said, ``You'll see, we will be the last ones standing,'' and the Greeks must have laughed and gone right on killing. Keep in mind, this war went on from 322 BCE all the way down to 164 BCE. Nonetheless, the Jews kept up their pitiful revolt, and kept risking, and giving, their lives for Judaism and the Greeks probably thought we were crazy.

``Give it up already, pack up, go to New York, what are you doing? Don't you Jews realize it's over,'' they probably said. ``Your resistance is futile.'' And the Jews just kept saying to themselves, ``Every mitzvah adds lights to the supernatural flame and even if we fail today, and fail again tomorrow, there is potential stored up in all our efforts so that one day all this potential will explode in a burst of light and disperse the darkness.''

After all, the Talmud says, ``chashecha zu yavan,'' which means, the essence of Greece is darkness.

The events of Chanukah were accompanied by the miracle of lights because that was the perfect representation of a battle between the light — the Jews — and darkness — the Greeks. The supernatural versus the natural.

Let us turn now to how the sages in the Talmud related to the miracle of Chanukah. The authors of the Talmud understood very well what was a miracle and what was not a miracle. They also understood the deep spiritual principle that if we kept trying, we couldn't lose.

If you keep making one effort after the next you will eventually see results. They understood that this reality is a miracle clothed in nature, a class two miracle, not a big fancy class one miracle. When the Talmud asks, ``What was the miracle on which Chanukah is based?'' they were talking in terms of a class two out of the ordinary miracle. This is why they identify the miracle of the oil and not the military victory. To them, the military victory was something to be expected, it was a ``natural'' miracle they knew they could count on. Because they knew if the Jews just kept resisting, kept fighting, kept observing their Judaism, eventually the Greeks would be defeated. Lights burning for eight days — that was unexpected. A rag-tag Jewish force defeating the mighty Greek war machine — that they expected.

This brings us to the authors of the siddur. You will recall that in the Jewish prayer book we find no mention of the miracle of the oil and only reference to the military victory. To understand this, we need to point out a fundamental difference between the Talmud and the siddur. The Talmud is a document that discusses ancient events. It may be a history book with insights that are relevant to our lives today, but its frame of reference is historical. In historical terms, the unique event of oil burning miraculously for eight days is what caught the Talmud's' attention.

Wars? They happen all the time.

The siddur, on the other hand, has nothing to do with history. The siddur is about today, literally. It's about this morning, this afternoon, and this evening. The siddur is about a living, dynamic, unfolding relationship between every Jew and G-d.

It's a ``real-time'' conversation. It's about the present, not the past. In the siddur, the only kind of miracle mentioned is the kind that is ongoing, that is taking place right now. The miracle mentioned in the siddur is the one that is eternally relevant to the war between nature and us, and that is the principle that if we keep fighting we eventually will overcome our nature.

Standing here in Efrat tonight, we all sense that everything is on the line. And when I say everything, I don't just mean the Land of Israel and I don't just mean the lives of the Jews of Israel. If this country goes, then the lives of the Jews throughout the world are in danger. For whatever reason, G-d has brought matters to a head. He is asking us now, will you please take the steps you need to take back control over nature?

In theory, we Israelis cannot win. There are tens of millions of Arabs in the armies that are surrounding this little nation. How many people are there in the Israeli fighting forces? It's absolutely frightening. Recently, numerous articles have been written depicting the scenario of a massive Arab invasion. And the predictions aren't good. How could we win if wave after wave of Arabs — millions of them — were determined to literally overrun the country? Yet, deep down, we know the formula for success.

We know that the Jewish people does not reckon with nature. We know that we can't stop trying even if our efforts seem to fly in the face of what seems reasonable or rational. Nature is rational, the Jewish people is not. Is Israel reasonable? Is its existence natural? Is the return of the Jewish people after two thousand years rational, or natural. Three hundred years ago, would anyone in their right mind have thought that the Israel of today could ever be possible? Is all that has been built and accomplished here rational?

Back on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we all made commitments. Tonight, those days of inspiration seem like so long ago. Our commitments are beginning to wane. This is the time when we feel like giving up. By this point in the year, we are starting to tell ourselves, ``You know what, I was high, and I made unreasonable commitments. It's just too much for me.'' Yet, just the opposite is true.

I want to tell you that Chanukah is the ideal time to grab those commitments and run with them. Chanukah is when we think about the potential stored up in every effort. Nature is begging us to give up, to be realistic, to realize that the task of growing in the way we hoped is just way beyond our ability. The response to this, is Chanukah. Chanukah says, nature can be vanquished, what seems to be impossible, isn't, and as Jews, we are supposed to believe in and count on miracles.

This year, more than in recent years, there is too much at stake not to go back to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and renew our commitments and our efforts. This year, those of us here in Efrat, and Jews everywhere need to know that we can look at those beautiful Chanukah lights — the lights that remind us of a great miracle — and tap into the ongoing miracle of the ability of the Jewish people to rise above nature, extinguish darkness, and reveal the brilliant supernatural light in every Jewish soul, and in the soul of all Am Yisrael.


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Lawrence Kelemen is a professor of education at Neve Yerushalayim College of Jewish Studies for Women in Jerusalem, where he also lectures in modern and medieval philosophy. This essay is based on a lecture delivered in Efrat, Israel.To comment on this article, please click here.





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