A. At the time of the second temple, the Greeks imposed spiritual edicts upon the Jews, chiefly: not to observe the Sabbath, the sanctification of the new month and circumcision. Also, the sages say that the Greeks wished the Jewish nation to declare the renunciation of their share in the G‑d of Israel. Finally, the Hashmonayim (Maccabees) waged war and with complete self-sacrifice succeeded in expelling the Greeks and gaining control of the kingdom.

The Zohar says that Greece symbolizes Kelipat Noga.

It is necessary to understand the essence of Greek thought from a more inner perspective. The Zohar says that Greece symbolizes Kelipat Noga. Kelipat Noga requires explaining. There are four Kelipot (husks) as in Ezekiel's vision: "I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north — an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant fire". That is: 1) a windstorm; 2) an immense cloud; 3) brilliant fire. (Ezek 1:4)

The holy Ari of Tzefat says these are three Kelipot of total impurity. Kelipat Noga (the "shining husk") is the fourth Kelipa, which is a mixture of good and bad.

The three impure Kelipot hint at all the impure and forbidden things in the physical world, such as animals prohibited as food in the Torah. They are completely impure and cannot be elevated. This is not so for Kelipat Noga, which is neither impure nor sacred. Rather, it depends on man and his use of it — i.e., in which way and with which intention. For example, a man eats kosher food. If it is for the sake of the mitzvah of Shabbat, he raises the holy sparks for the good and then this Kelipat Noga becomes good. But if he eats that same kosher food without a blessing and not for any mitzvah, it becomes a Kelipa of impurity.

B. Spiritual reality has three parts: 1) holiness, 2) impurity and, between these, 3) permitted—the realm of Kelipat Noga. It is written in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), "One opposite the other, G‑d made them." Torah and Mitzvot belong to the system of holiness. Transgression and the forbidden belong to the system of impurity. There is no need to rectify holiness; it is already perfect since it comes directly from the L-rd. The impure cannot be rectified; we have no obligation in relation to it other than to distance ourselves from it, to overcome the evil inclination so that it will not seduce us into that realm.

Besides these two, there is the realm of the "permitted" that has neither transgression nor Mitzvah. For example, the sages of blessed memory commanded us that a man should work to make a living or if, heaven forbid, a man is sick, he must go to a doctor for healing. This is called the realm of permitted.

Another example: if a man works honestly and keeps the Mitzvot so as not to cheat his brother and not to lie, yet believes that his salary and livelihood come from the L‑rd and doesn't consider his success as coming from his own power and efforts, he broadens the realm of permission and inserts this space into the realm of holiness. But if the opposite prevails and he considers his success due solely to his own might and works dishonestly, he broadens the realm of permission into that of impurity.

This leads to the outlook that all depends on the powers of the individual, his body and his wisdom...

C. Now we can better understand the essence of Greece that the Zohar defines as Kelipat Noga. The foundation of their belief system is to attribute all of existence to nature, and that the forces of nature exist and function without Divine supervision. This leads to the outlook that all depends on the powers of the individual, his body and his wisdom, and that there is no reality above nature nor a G‑d that governs the world.

According to this we shall understand what the sages said about why the Greeks decreed to annul specifically the three Mitzvot of Shabbat, New Moon and circumcision. Principally, these three precepts symbolize what is above nature. Shabbat is a sabbatical that the L‑rd created and gave us after six days of creating nature. Circumcision is the correction of the human body from the way it is created by nature. The consecration of the month, which determines the dates of all the festivals, is also opposed to nature because it is based on the idea that it is the sages, of blessed memory, who determine when the new month is, not astronomy. That power is given to the wise ones of Israel and everything depends upon their determination.

The sages say that the reason the Greeks ordered the nation of Israel to write, "you have no share in the G‑d of Israel" on a bull's horn, is that the bull indicates rigor and the Greeks wished to annul our opposition to their belief that all depends upon the strength of man and the power of nature alone.

D. According to this, we shall understand why the defining Mitzvah of Chanukah is to light oil candles. This also illuminates the difference between Chanukah and Purim.

On Purim, the main Mitzvah is drinking wine. Wine and oil both symbolize joy and wisdom, as is written in Ecclesiastes, "oil makes the heart joyful and wine will gladden the heart of man." However, oil principally functions from the bottom up — oil floats and illuminates from bottom to top. Wine, on the other hand, works from top down — it passes from the mouth to the body, just as on the altar the libation of the wine was from top to bottom. Oil, in contrast, was used for the head. Cohen's (priests) and kings were anointed with oil upon the head, as it is written: "as good oil on the head." (Psalms 133:2)

We are to meditate on the "above nature" reality.

Physical man has two parts, head and body. The head symbolizes thought, judgment and control of bodily impulses. The body represents nature and its forces. The Greeks didn't wish to annihilate the bodies of the Jews but rather to impose the forces of nature and the denial of G‑d — that they should not look from the bottom up. i.e., to the upward direction where there is a governor and supervisor of nature. On Chanukah, the Mitzvah is with oil that illuminates from bottom upwards. We are commanded only to see the lights but not to use them for physical purposes. We are to meditate on the "above nature" reality.

On Purim, however, the edict was to, "annihilate and to kill and to eliminate" the Jewish people. (Esther 3:13) That is, even if the nation of Israel were to have denied the existence of G‑d, heaven forbid, the edict of annihilation would still have remained in force. Therefore, on Purim we are commanded to abundantly drink wine that pleases the body from top down, symbolizing the miracle of the saving of the bodies.

E. According to Beit Shammai, one should light eight candles the first night and reduce that number with each passing day, since during Succot the number of sacrifices - seventy - corresponding to the seventy nations - are reduced by one day after day. Also, from the last day of Succot, until the end of Chanukah, there are seventy days .The nations of the world symbolize nature. On each of those seventy days, more of nature enters the realm of holiness. Until finally, when Chanukah ends, all has been rendered part of the sacred.

Beit Hillel disagrees and says we should light only one candle on the first night, and then add another candle each night (and such is the universal custom).

There is a famous story in the Talmudic tractate Shabbat, that a non-Jew came to Shammai and asked to be taught the whole Torah in the space of a few moments. Shammai pushed him away. He then came to Hillel with the same demand and Hiilel told him: "What is hateful to you, do not do unto your neighbor that is the whole Torah. For the rest, go and study Torah."

In another story, a non-Jew came to Shammai and asked how to become a Cohen Gadol (high priest). Again, in this story, Shammai pushed him away. Then he came to Hillel, Hillel told him to first learn Torah. Hillel knew that with the study of Torah, the non-Jew would learn that a convert cannot become a Cohen, only the descendants of Aaron.

Through these stories, we learn the difference between Shammai and Hillel. According to Shammai, we must first purify ourselves from evil and only then enter the dimension of the sacred. Hillel, on the other hand, claims that we must enter the sacred immediately and bit by bit impurity will be displaced.

We see here two functions - that of the fire that destroys...and that of the light that illuminates...

The same principle can be seen in fire and its light. On the one hand, it consumes and on the other it illuminates. In the Al HaNissim prayer said during Chanukah, we recite two accomplishments of the Maccabes: "Pinu et Hachalecha" (they cleared Your hall) and "VeTiharu et Mikdashecha" (and they purified Your Temple). Further on, is another one: "VeHidliku Nerot" (and they lit candles). We see here two functions - that of the fire that destroys (to purify evil) and that of the light that illuminates (to clear the way for holiness).

Shammai emphasized the eradication of evil and thus begins with a maximum of fire - i.e., eight candles. Hillel emphasized affirmative action - beginning with one candle and gradually eliminating the darkness.

© Copyright Chanukah 5756, Rabbi Avraham Brandwein, Jerusalem. Translation by Avraham Sutton. Edited by Yerachmiel Tilles for KabbalaOnline.org in 5776.