Chanukah: The Inner Battle
Chanukah comes from the root word chinuch (education). It is a time of rediscovery of self and a time to explore what we really yearn to achieve. There are thirteen parshiot (weekly portions) in the Torah that discuss the Mishkan (Tabernacle) because this pivotal concept teaches us how to bring HaShem into our world.
HaShem says, “Make for me a sanctuary and I will dwell within you.” The Ramban maintains that thearon (ark), which parallels the mind, was the focal point of the Mishkan. The human mind is the repository of spirituality and, if we sanctify it, HaShem rests there. The Rambam contends that the altar, which parallels the body, was the most essential aspect of the Mishkan, because that was the place where physicality was elevated to spirituality.
Throughout our lives, we experience challenges of the mind and body. Our choices determine who we will become. Hellenistic philosophy which originated from the Greeks, which has left its imprint on Western culture, teaches that overcoming physical obstacles produces nobility. However, the savagery of the marketplace, the stiff upper lip, hedonism, academia as an end in itself, the mockery of anything that cannot be controlled or described, the survival of the fittest, are all negative offshoots of Hellenistic culture.
Were we meant to despise life’s pleasures, shun achievements, and avoid pursuit of knowledge? Quite the contrary, a Jew’s aim is to bring HaShem’s presence into the world. If all these areas are infused with spirit they become holy. We are not afraid of academia, but the process of learning should lead us not to describing reality, but to proclaiming, “What a marvelous world HaShem gave us. What is my responsibility and role here?” The more one knows, the more passionate our love for HaShem should become.
The Jewish vision is to subject the animal soul to the divine soul. How is this accomplished? The Baal HaTanya suggests one approach. Notice how many times the animal soul prevails. Make specific defined times to review your life and to really despise the part of yourself that is limited and despicable. Then appreciate the greatness of your spiritual soul and notice that often it is in exile. Next, recognize that a prisoner cannot free himself, and pray to HaShem for help. Realize that freeing yourself will come through the study of Torah, performance of mitzvot (plural for commandment), and fighting the good fight. Do every mitzvah (commandment) with happiness. Your measure of how well you can uplift physicality is how much joy you find in mitzvot.
Chanukah is about changing our mindset from “Hellenistic think” to “Jew think.” “Hellenistic think” wants you to have achievement but not the joy of it, the ability to use the world but not in a way that will give you spiritual and enduring pleasure, the breadth of knowledge but nothing with real meaning. “Hellenistic think” wants to make you a smaller person; “Jew think” expands your soul. The Hellenistic Greeks didn’t just oppose the abstract part of Judaism, but also its concrete aspects. They forbade Shabbat (Sabbath) observance, a time when a Jew divorces himself from endless competition and achievement and makes room for HaShem. They outlawed Rosh Chodesh (head of the month new moon), where we redefine time as a spiritual and transcendental thing. They forbade brit milah(circumcision), which connotes that the body can be holy and that we need to perfect it.
Chanukah rectifies Hellenistic distortion. It teaches us that HaShem is the Master of reality and we can only relate to Him by following His ways. Our achievements and pleasures are measured by our relationship with HaShem. We see this in the menorah and the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days.
We often create myths having to do with human control. We need to ask HaShem to allow us to see something of Him, to show us that He is above anything we imagined.
Chanukah urges us to uplift ourselves by searching for HaShem in our lives. May we open our minds and hearts to see our Creator by recognizing HaShem’s control and believing in a world of miracles.
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller