We live in a world of great beauty, one that offers tantalizing material benefits and pleasures for humanity’s taking. But what is the true purpose of these resources, and to what end should mankind exploit them? This question is as old as the world itself and has garnered a myriad of responses from different individuals and peoples throughout the course of human history.

Is this world...the be-all and end-all of our existence?

Is our life’s journey limited to the short time we spend on this earth with the logical conclusion that we should spend our time here in the pursuit of maximum material pleasure while we can yet enjoy it? Is this world, in fact, the be-all and end-all of our existence?

Or are we here only temporarily with a higher purpose that transcends our fleeting presence in this infinitesimally small corner of the universe? Do we have a mandate to serve a Divine Creator and, thus, connect ourselves to the eternal? Is there an unseen yet palpable, spiritual realm whose beauty and pleasure far surpasses the temporal bounds of the world we see in front of us? These trenchant but diametrically opposed viewpoints form the basis of the Chanukah story and inform the philosophical outlooks of its key protagonists, the Jews and the Greeks.

Our patriarch Abraham taught the world the truth of the existence of the One Eternal Al-mighty G‑d, Creator of heaven and earth. And the One G‑d rewarded these efforts by entering into a special covenant, a brit, with Avraham and his children for all time. This covenant served to bring us closer to G‑d and raised us to a lofty spiritual plane.

But at the same time it imposed upon us a new mandate: to live in accordance with G‑d’s holy will as a model nation and in so doing, raise all humanity with us into the radiant aura of G‑d’s supernal light. We are to be a 'Mamlechet Kohanim v’Goi Kadosh', a priestly and holy nation.

As heirs to Abraham’s legacy, we recognize that the pleasures we derive from this world are but a means and pathway to a far greater and eternal future in the world to come. And accordingly, we are more than willing to devote our time, energy and resources in the service of our Creator and for the benefit of our fellow man.

The Greeks scoffed at this notion. They believed only in that which they could see. But in truth, their rationalistic philosophies were mere excuses to absolve themselves of a greater responsibility and allow themselves to pursue with abandon the momentary gratifications of this limited world.

The Greeks allowed themselves to be blinded by the immediate esthetic...

Perspective and perception in life are crucial to our understanding of pure, ultimate truth. The Greeks allowed themselves to be blinded by the immediate esthetic and refused to acknowledge a greater power which might infringe on his hedonistic predilections. The Jew, however, beholds this world and sees it as a wondrous veil concealing an infinite beyond.

When the Greeks saw the Jews performing the service in the holy temple "taking healthy bullocks, oxen and sheep and consecrating them as korbanot, sacrifices to an unseen G‑d, it stirred within them pangs of conscience and enraged them against this people that presumed to curtail their quest to satisfy every last desire this world has to offer. The notion of wasting a perfectly good animal that could otherwise provide physical pleasure was antithetical to their pragmatic sensibilities. Consequently, the Greeks decreed that their secular philosophies should supplant Torah study and that the performance of mitzvot be outlawed.

The Talmud records that many Jews fell under the spell of the Greek way of life; they tried convincing their brethren to join the Greeks in their new-found freedom, to live moment to moment and seek instant gratification. One prominent Jewish woman, Miriam the daughter of Bilga who hailed from a family of Kohanim, priests who served in our holy Temple, married an officer in the Greek Helenist army.

When he entered the Temple with his garrison to defile its precincts, Miriam entered with him and proceeded straight to the sacrificial altar. She violently kicked the side of the altar and screamed, "Lukus (wolf), Lukus, how long will you continue to consume the sacrifices of your people but fail to protect them in their time of need?" She mirrored the attitude of her Greek husband in refusing to acknowledge a higher purpose in life.

Against this background we gain profound insight into a cryptic practice the Greeks instituted in their zeal to strip the Jews of their last vestige of Jewish faith and practice. As recorded by our Rabbis, the Greeks decreed that all Jews must inscribe upon the horn of an ox the statement: ‘We renounce our connection to the G‑d of Israel."

...what was the significance of inscribing this pronouncement on the ox’s horn?

While we understand their desire to uproot the last trace of Torah observance, what was the significance of inscribing this pronouncement on the ox’s horn? We can answer this by observing that one of the practices most demonstrative of our willingness to consecrate our possessions to a higher purpose was the sacrifice of a perfectly healthy ox on G‑d’s altar. The Greeks took this symbol of our immortality and sought to degrade it to the lowest levels by turning it into a symbol of blasphemy.

Fortunately, with G‑d’s help, there arose a tenacious remnant of our holy people who refused to crumble under the Greek influence and who reasserted their undying, unflagging faith in the One G‑d. Known as the Chashmonaim ("Maccabees"), they rallied their brethren to their cause and kindled a flame of religious renewal that burned brightly enough to repulse an enemy far greater in numbers, one whose evil darkness could not smother the light of Divine truth. And as the story concludes, the little bit of holy oil remaining in the temple shone luminously for eight days until new holy oil could be manufactured to supply the rededicated service of the restored Second Holy Temple.

Today, we battle against the same forces of secularism and assimilation that our ancestors prevailed against 2,200 years ago. We mustn’t fail in carrying forth the torch in this generation and passing it on to future generations of holy Jewish children.

May your lives be filled with the light of Chanukah, bringing true spiritual joy and serenity into all of your endeavors. And may we all merit to see the Divine light of truth, justice and love shine forth once again from Jerusalem and our Third Holy Temple, may it be built speedily in our days.

Reprinted from a special email for Chanukah 5772 (2011) of the Kaliver Rebbe’s gabbai-administrator, Zalman Rosenberg, '[email protected]', as received from "Shabbos Stories for Chanukah 5772" 'keren18 @ juno.com'.

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