The Greeks and Nature

It was the Greeks’ denial of Israel’s intimate relationship with the Creator that brought them the appellation of "darkness." They sought to undermine Israel’s pure and simple faith in G‑d and their direct bond to the Source of light. And although they allowed the Jewish people physical freedom, they enslaved them in a spiritual sense.

The Almighty created the world and rules over it, they affirmed. They even admitted that G‑d originally selected the people of Israel to be His nation. What they sought to prevent was the intimate connection between the Creator and His people. They were aware that this bond was made possible by the existence of the Temple and by the terms of the covenant. If they could coerce Israel to break their half of the covenant, then logically their personal relationship with G‑d would end.

...of all the nations...Greece was the closest to holiness and the hardest to oppose...

The Sages explain that of all the nations who overpowered Israel, Greece was the closest to holiness and the hardest to oppose because they accepted part of the truth, namely, that G‑d’s bond with Israel dated since the creation of the world. The Greeks did not seek to convert or destroy Israel; they allowed them to teach and study – but only as a cultural phenomenon rather than as a way of life. In this new way of relating to mitzvot, Shabbat and festivals would become days of leisure, relics of their past, rather than opportunities to draw closer to the Source.

In the case of other exiles, when the physical oppression ceased, so did the underlying spiritual forces. However, the Greek exile was different. Even when their political control of Israel ended, their spiritual influence remained. Today it has wormed its way into modern Israeli society. The new generation in Israel is being taught that the study of Torah is just like the study of history: it does not require them to adopt ancient customs, and rites such as circumcision and bar-mitzvah should be considered obsolete!

Thus, when the Temple is rebuilt, we will bow down thirteen times to thank the Almighty for having annihilated the Greek "way of life." We will not be thanking Him for something no longer relevant. On the contrary, we will know that it was very close to home!

This was the purpose of the draw the spiritual emanations of holiness into our lives...

The significance of the miraculous oil was not only that it enabled them to light the Menorah. More importantly, it showed that the Divine Presence was still in their midst, bringing holiness down to this world. This was the purpose of the Temple, the foot of Jacob’s ladder; to draw the spiritual emanations of holiness into our lives until we become filled with a Divine energy that makes us impervious to evil.

Although Israel physically overcame the Greeks, their victory was not complete, for the objective of the Greeks had been spiritual, not physical. Greece wanted Israel to conform to their way of thinking, which excluded the concept of holiness. If, in the Temple, the priests had not found any pure oil, they still could have lit the Menorah, for the Temple service takes precedence over the prohibition of sullied oil. However, in this case, purity was the point in question. During the entire time of the Greek dominion, Israel had lived without the holiness and purity that underlay their relationship with G‑d. Total liberation from Greece called for lighting the Menorah with an oil that had never been touched by impure hands.

The revolt of the Jews showed that this love bond was more important to them than their very lives. G‑d therefore responded with His love, by showing them that He had jealously hidden one flask from the eyes of the enemy, waiting many years for the time His beloved people would make the first step to overthrow darkness from their midst.

The Center Flame of the Menorah

The Greeks were intent on disproving Israel’s claim to a unique bond with the Creator. Why didn’t they destroy the Temple, since this was the very source of Israel’s strength, the place on earth where their souls below were infused with Divine energy?

The Greeks believed that G‑d had asked the Jews to build a Temple as a site of holiness, fit for His Presence to dwell on earth, from where He would direct His blessings toward the Children of Israel.

The Greeks therefore wanted the Temple to continue to stand and to draw Divine sustenance down to earth. Their object was to draw down to themselves the Divine sustenance that now stemmed from the Temple directly to Israel, and through Israel to the rest of the world.

The only way they could achieve their objective was by preventing the soul-union between the Holy One and the Community of Israel.

The heavenly soul-union was instrumental in directing the Divine luminous energy exclusively to Israel, as expressed in the words of the verse: "Only you have I 'known/yada’ti' among all the nations of the world." (Job 19:26) From the moment that da’at is involved, the thought of any other nation is impossible, as suggested in the verse "from my flesh I will see G‑d." (Ibid.) This aspect of da’at is called devekut in the sense that as soon as da’at begins to glow, there is no room for any other thought.

In order to attain their goal, the Greeks used their power in two ways. One was directed against Israel themselves, as their captors forced them to transgress the terms of the Covenant. The other aimed at tarnishing the purity of the Temple vessels each one of which had a spiritual "light," or energy, of its own.

The center flame of the Menorah was the unshakable proof of the union between Israel and their Maker...

Among the vessels was the golden Menorah. Each evening, the priest would kindle all the lights in the candelabrum. He would pour an equal amount of oil into all the golden bulbs. When he entered the Sanctuary on the following morning, the lights would all have burnt out, except that of the center branch. He would then rekindle the lights, and by evening he would find once again that the center branch was the only one that continued to burn. The center flame of the Menorah was the unshakable proof of the union between Israel and their Maker, and affirmed that G‑d’s separation from the souls of Israel was only in appearance, but that the inner connection remained intact. In the priest’s daily lighting of the candelabrum, he drew down the heavenly soul-union that took place above. His goal was that the union should not occur just in Heaven at the lofty level of our soul-roots, but also within each one of us, in the soul-union known as Jerusalem Below.

It is written, "The nations shall know that I am G‑d, the Holy One, within Israel." (Ezekiel 39:7)

And indeed, the Greeks knew; though the curtain of the Holy of Holies hid the soul-union from the eyes of the world, the Menorah was placed outside. Only the priests were allowed in the altar where the candelabrum stood, but the doors of the altar were kept open so that onlookers could perceive the lights glow from a distance. Consequently, everyone could see the miraculous eternal glow of the center branch of the Menorah, revealing the close bond between Israel’s soul-roots and the Holy One. Thus the Greeks were well aware that as long as this center lamp kept burning, they would be unable to harm Israel. Hence, they took to breaking the intimate bond by defiling all the oil. They sought to extinguish the center lamp of the Menorah which provided the evidence that Israel’s soul-roots were in direct contact with the Divine source of energy.

We have seen that to help us experience Him, G‑d constricts His Infinite Light by "clothing" it with His Thirteen Attributes. On the twenty-fifth of Kislev, after the military conquest, Israel began to divest themselves of their former impurity, and as the days of Chanukah went by, the Almighty enclosed Himself in succeeding attributes. Seven days elapsed for Israel to cross the bridge from impurity to purity.

When G‑d enclosed His Infinite Light in the last attribute — 'Venake/One who purifies' — on the eight day of Chanukah, Israel became permeated by purity. The relationship could not revert to the original union of Companions of the soul. On this day the Children of Israel cleave to their Maker in a total soul-union, whose intensity is similar to that of Shemini Atzeret.

Maimonides teaches that one who is so poor that he cannot afford the oil needed to kindle the Chanukah lamps should sell his coat and make his purchase. The light of the center branch of the Menorah was the proof of the heavenly soul-union Jerusalem Above, whose illumination at the sim shalom/establish peace blessing is double in the morning Amida prayer throughout Chanukah.

On Chanukah, when we commentate the lighting of the candelabrum by kindling our own lamps, we are in effect drawing down the heavenly union so that its luminous energy infuses our souls. In fact, the optimum time to kindle the Chanukah lights is twilight, the time when G‑d showed Jacob the foot of the ladder, the soul-union of Jerusalem Below. Also, the optimum place for kindling the Chanukah lights is no higher than ten handbreadths above the ground, to sensitize us to the soul-union that we are to experience in the Amida prayer of the following morning.

Candle-lighting time is infused with Divine favor.

Candle-lighting time is infused with Divine favor. We stare at the soft glow of the Chanukah lamps, as Jews have done through the centuries, renewing the face-to-face bond with the Beloved. This is a moment of special intimacy in which all prayers are propitious, in particular the cries for G‑d’s powerful help to bring us close to Him.

Through Chanukah we attain the level of devekut that we know in the Amida prayer of Shabbat afternoon, when we become part of G‑d’s essence. In fact, it is on Shabbat within Chanukah that we read in the prophetic portion, "Sing and rejoice, people of Zion, for I am coming. I will dwell within you, declares G‑d." (Zechariah 2:14; my own translation)