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Chanukah:  Faith Over Fate

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Herschel Reichman

Chanukah celebrates the victory of faith over fate. When a small band of untrained Maccabees defeated the mighty army of Syrian-Greeks, it was clear to all that faith had won over reason.

The Greeks outlawed brit milah, Shabbat, and Rosh Chodesh.  Greek philosophy idolized the human body as a symbol of perfection.  In contrast, brit milah commands us to further perfect and elevate our body by removing the foreskin. Brit milah adds a spiritual quality to a Jew’s body that goes beyond natural physical order.  Shabbat too, goes against the natural social order of the world. The day takes on an extra divine like dimension defying logic and reason.

The Greeks banned Rosh Chodesh because the Jewish calendar also goes beyond physical nature.  A girl’s status in halacha changes from a ketana to a gedola on her twelfth birthday. If the Jewish court declared a leap year in her eleventh year, she would not gain the status of a gedola until a month later, even though she may have already physically matured. This again brings faith and reality at odds, which is why the Greeks outlawed Rosh Chodesh.  

Chodesh comes from the root word, chadash, newness.  Rosh Chodesh is a spiritual arousal. It is not just another thirty days repeating itself but a new cycle where a Jew receives a spiritual injection of fresh energy every month. Similarly, Shabbat brings with it new spiritual power for the coming week. A sensitive Jew can plug into all this renewed energy and grow.  The Shem Mishmuel explains that the Greeks were jealous of the Jews because the Greek system of nature was so unchanging and bound by fate that it stifled creativity.  In Judaism, faith replaces fate. We believe that man can change fate and his personality through teshuva. 

Chodesh Tevet corresponds to the tribe of Dan, which signifies judgment. The Midrash explains that Rachel named Bilha’s son Dan because, “Hashem judged me and found me guilty. He judged me and found me meritorious.” Yaakov put on a show of cruelty for Rachel so that she would pray. He forced her to remove her faith in him and rediscover her faith in Hashem. This is the message of Chanukah.  A small platoon of faithful soldiers toppling a massive well equipped world power could only have been accomplished with mesirut nefesh, prayer and faith.  

The Shem Mishmuel, quoting the Avnei Nezer, emphasizes that reason can support faith but certainly does not replace it or precede it. This was the crux of the clash between Greek philosophy and Torah. Greek philosphy worships logic and nature. Judaism teaches that although human logic is important, it is only secondary to following Hashem’s dictates.

The flames of the Chanukah candles contain the secret of Jewish survival.  Our pure faith has kept us alive throughout our long and painful exile.


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