THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL
The Jewish home is not just a shelter from the elements—whether climatic or base, human elements. It is not just a place to call one’s own, or just a place to be “yourself.” It is neither just a place for recreation, to distract your mind from the pressures of life. And it is certainly not just a place to sink into your armchair and to read about crime, war and hunger, or the trivialities of life.
Rather, it should be a place where you can find the quiet you need to enter your inner spiritual house. It should be a place where you can seal yourself off in a room, where you can release yourself from the distractions of life . . . a place where you can seclude yourself from outside commotion, and then quiet your mind from its restless state . . . where you can just let go of all thoughts as they enter your mind, and just observe them as they come and go . . . where you can calm clear your mind of all agitation, breathe deeply, and just let go . . .
Such a “house” could be found in the Temple, the paramount spiritual retreat. There one could go to just be with God, to shut out all distractions from inside and out (Rabbi Abraham Maimonides, Sefer HaMaspik). This was the house, the House of Israel, represented by Jacob, our forefather. Jacob was a man who “dwelt in tents,” a man who explored his inner life. In contrast, Esau was a “man of the field,” a man who despised the inner life (Likutey Moharan I: 1; Likutey Halakhot, Sefer Torah 4:27).
But any Jewish home, not just the Temple, is a rightful House of Israel (Likutey Halakhot, Rosh HaShanah 4:7). It is a place where one can be to go deep inside, where one can find one’s own Inner Temple. It is a place where one can find the Divine Word as conveyed in the holy Torah. Thus, the Torah begins with the letter beyt, which is spelled BaYiT, which means a home (Likutey Halakhot, Sefer Torah 4:9). This implies that before one can acquire Torah, one must have a home, a bayit.
When the sanctuary of the home was neglected and outside influences crept in, the Greeks were empowered to violate it. They sought to destroy the sanctity of the Jewish home by taking away the people’s privacy. They sought to deny them the peace of mind that is necessary to make the home a temple. And they sought to distract them from inner peace by erecting a molten image in the Holy Temple.
Thus, after the Maccabees overcame the Greeks and rededicated the Holy Temple, the Sages ordained that we light Chanukah candles at the entrance or window of all Jewish homes. The custom later arose to light candles also in the synagogue, the collective home, the miniature Holy Temple.
So when you light your Chanukah candles, clear your mind of all distractions. Focus on your inner life. Light the candles at your door or window; proclaim your home a sanctuary. Kindle the light of the Jewish home, and do so in a conspicuous place. Let everyone see that your home is a temple, a place where God can be found.
c. 3616 The Jews are ordered to engrave on the horns of their oxen, “We have no portion in the God of Israel” (Midrash Ma’aseh Chanukah).
THE HOI POLLOI
Your judgment is awesomely profound. O God, save both man and beast! (Psalms 36:7). Man refers to the scholars, and beast refers to the unlearned masses (Seforno, loc. cit.).
Greek philosophy is based on the assumption that only the philosophers can know. Only those whose minds can grasp the subtleties of wisdom can be in the know. To them, probing the intricacies of how the universe operates and the secrets of the atom are life’s objectives. In their eyes, fathoming the dynamics of the natural world and the mysteries underlying its existence should be one’s aspiration. Mastering this wisdom is the goal of all life, they say, and gathering this knowledge is its purpose. The delights of understanding shall then be yours forevermore; the rapture of comprehension will await you in the afterlife.
The masses, however—the vast majority of mankind—are doomed to a life of oblivion. Since grasping this wisdom is beyond their comprehension, they have nothing to anticipate in the afterlife. They are like cattle, say philosophers, to be used and abused, and then cast away when they are useless. There is no hope, they say, for the majority of mankind and no reason to be concerned about them.
But Jewish faith maintains that the purpose of life cannot be attaining this wisdom, for the path to God must be open to every single member of the human race. It is not so important what you can understand as it is how you live your daily life. Simplicity and sincerity are the keys to God’s secrets, the keys to eternal life. Wisdom is only an optional tool that can be discarded once you have the keys.
To approach God you must be as simple as possible, for He is Ultimately Simple. You must cast aside your sophistry and live with simple faith—and spread this message to others.
The Greeks were bent on uprooting this simple faith and on divorcing the people from Jewish practice. So they decreed that the Jews carve on the horns of their oxen, “We have no portion in the God of Israel.” The oxen represent the hoi polloi—those whose level of understanding is not much better than that of oxen. Nevertheless, they too have a portion in the God of Israel, as long as they serve Him with simplicity (Likkutey Moharan II: 19; Oneg Shabbat, p. 128).
BEAUTY AND THE GREEKS
True charm and beauty of anything cannot be perceived from a superficial perspective. Although external appearance projects a thing’s essence, it is no more than a faint projection of its true beauty. The true beauty of all things is the Divine wisdom that sustains it—how the Infinite Oneness is uniquely expressed in each thing (Likutey Moharan I: 1).
To behold this beauty, you must focus your mind on finding the Divine wisdom in that thing. You must search for the specific inspiration that this thing can give you, the unique way in which it can bring you closer to God. When you find this wisdom, your horizons will broaden and you will perceive its awesome beauty by the rays of this light.
But this awesome beauty is too dazzling to behold with the naked eye—the rays of this light can blind you. Thus you cannot look at it directly; you must look only at its “reflection”—its external beauty. But you must have the faith that the inner, true beauty is there, beneath the superficial appearance. With this faith you can perceive the awesome true beauty with your inner eye and marvel at its exquisite appearance.
The light of this wisdom is referred to as the “sun,” and is represented by Jacob, the firstborn—both Jacob and the firstborn represent this wisdom. The letter CHeYT—indicating the Divine wisdom that gives life (CHaYuT) to all things—also represents it. The “reflection,” though, is referred to as the “moon,” and is represented by the letter nun. The moon represents Divine Majesty—Divine Manifestation—which has no light of its own. It must receive light from our wisdom, our perceptions, from our perceiving in it the rays of the sun, because otherwise, God remains hidden. And when we do, we connect the moon with the sun, thus combining the cheyt with the nun. This creates chen, the charm of Creation, and the charm we then have in God’s eyes.
When we do that, God hears our prayers, as if they were being engraved on His heart. This is represented by the letter tav, which means “engraving.” The tav together with the cheyt and nun, spell NaCHatT, quietude. This shows that in order for our prayers to reach God, we must enter a state of meditative quietude.
But the perceptions of Esau block our perceptions. Esau scorned wisdom—the significance of the firstborn. He sees only superficial appearance, and thus severs the cheyt from the nun. He represents the reign of “evil,” the useless light of the “other side” of the moon.
Greece fostered Esau’s perceptions, and they foisted them upon Jacob’s offspring. Their philosophy was based on superficial intelligence, on analyzing how things seem to be. Their culture was based upon deifying the human body and ignoring the spiritual essence of things. Yet they audaciously claimed that they were the “firstborn”—that the pseudo-beauty of Yefet, their ancestor, should take precedence over the wisdom of Jacob’s ancestor, Shem (Yefet and Shem, were brothers, sons of Noah). Indeed, it seems that Yefet was in fact the biological firstborn (Genesis 10:21), although Shem, the younger brother, outshined him. The same thing was true of Jacob and Esau—Esau was the biological firstborn. But neither Esau nor Yefet deserved to have this eternal privilege, so the spiritual birthrights were confiscated from them.
Thus, the numerical value of King Antiochus of Greece (אנטיוכס מלך יון) is twice that of Yosef, who was Jacob’s “firstborn,” his quintessential spiritual heir (יוסף = 156 x 2 = 312; Megaleh Amukot #252). This symbolizes Antiochus’s effort to claim the double portion of birthright for himself and to undermine the Jewish people’s rights as God’s declared firstborn. He did this through physical and spiritual oppression, in order to prevent them from meditative quietude. He did this by introducing Greek immorality into Jewish cities, thus defiling the Jewish people’s morality, their “spirit of Yosef,” since Yosef showed restraint when he was tempted. Antiochus further sought to undermine the Jewish people’s “spirit of Yosef” by decreeing that they engrave on the horns of their oxen that they have no share in the God of Israel. We find that Yosef is referred to as an ox, in the verse, “His glory is like a firstborn ox, and his horns are like the horns of a bison” (Deuteronomy 33:17). Engraving this on the horns of their oxen was meant to symbolize that they were no longer engraved on God’s heart—that they no longer found chen, favor, in God’s eyes, and their prayers no longer reached God. That they were no longer God’s chosen.
To commemorate the victory over those Greek forces of darkness that sought to separate us from the light of wisdom, of the firstborn, we celebrate CHaNukah and light candles in the evening, showing that we too can see in the dark. We can find the sun’s light—even in the darkness. We can find the great light hidden in the Chanukah candles. We can find God’s presence Presence by the small light of these candles, and we can see the awesome beauty of His world by the flickering of their lights.
But first you must find the state of meditative quietude….
c. 3625 A civil war breaks out between the Jewish Hellenists and the faithful Jews. Coming to the aid of the Hellenists, Antiochus overruns Jerusalem, breaches the Temple wall in thirteen places, captures the Temple, ravishes it and suspends the daily offering. Then, he offers swine blood on the holy Altar (Megillat Antiochus; Sotah 49b; Menachot 64b). This took place 213 years after the Second Temple was completed in 3412 (Megilat Antiochus; see “Lost in the Translation,” p. xxx).
God saw that the gentiles would translate the Torah into Greek and claim that they are the true Israel. He told them: Whoever possesses My mysteries is My son (Tanchuma, Ki Tissa #34).
Before God gave the Torah to the Jewish people, He offered it to the gentile nations. But what if they had accepted it? Would we all have become the chosen people? This, of course, could not have been, since this would have rendered the bondage in Egypt meaningless, not to mention the covenant with our forefathers. But if God offered it to them knowing they would reject it, His offering it to them was a farce.
By all measures of fairness, God had to offer the Torah to all of His children. However, in order to assure that only His favorite son would get it, He had to give them a “secret code.” Without this secret code, the Torah’s statutes seem meaningless, which is why the gentiles did not want it (Chatam Sofer, Torah Moshe, Exodus 5:3/c?).
This “secret code” is the Jewish heart—surrender to God, knowing that His intentions are beyond fathom. This allows us to “understand,” even when there is no logical reason. Thus, we said when offered the Torah, “We will do and then we will understand.” We did not need to understand what we were doing, only that God had commanded it. That was enough for us. And this is the “secret” that differentiates between Israel and impostors.
The epitome of the Israel impostor is the pig. The pig seems to be “kosher” from its external appearance—it boasts the kosher sign of a split hoof. But on the inside, it does not chew its cud. Its insides render it non-kosher. Similarly, a gentile may sometimes act like a Jew, and give the impression of being “kosher.” But the thoughts of a gentile while performing the noblest act cannot compare to those of a Jew (Tanya I:1).
Our great-uncle Esau embodied the pig—he served his father, Isaac, more than Jacob ever did, but he did so for his personal interests. He asked Isaac questions to lead him to think that he, Esau, was a God-fearing person. And in the Future, Esau will don a prayer shawl, sit next to Jacob, and demand equal treatment from God (Midrash Tanchuma [Buber edition], Tzav #4; Divrei Soferim 19b). Indeed, tradition has it that Uncle Esau resembled a chassidic rebbe….
So, it is one’s intentions that make all the difference, a difference that is subtle, indeed (Likutey Halakhot, Shechitah 3:6). When Noah was found bare in his tent, both Shem and Yefet went to cover him. Out of deference for their father’s disgrace, they walked backward so as not to see him. Their acts were exactly the same, but their intentions were worlds apart. Whereas Shem had in mind God’s command—to honor one’s father and mother—Yefet had in mind simple ethics. Thus, only Shem’s descendants merited a mitzvah garment—the prayer shawl—leaving Yefet with only secular ethics (Rashi, Genesis 9:23; Ha’amek Davar and Gur Aryeh ad loc.).
Ultimately God chose the Jewish people, regardless of their efforts or merits (Likutey Moharan I: 21:9), because whatever the Jewish people do for God, they acknowledge that they could not have done it without Him. The gentiles, though, attribute God’s choice to effort, and boast of their effort as their own (Makhshavot Harutz Charutz 13b-c). They derive ethics from God’s Torah or from their God-given logic, and incorporate them into their faiths, but they see themselves as having achieved this on their own, rather than as merely being an expression of the Divine will (Reb Tzadok of Lublin, Likutey Ma’amarim #15, p. 74ff). They serve God for personal gain, and then expect that God will provide it.
The subtlety of this distinction becomes apparent through the Oral Law (Likutey Moharan II: 28; Likutey Halakhot, Sefer Torah 1). The Oral Torah seems to be a compilation of human logic, no different from Greek philosophy. Indeed, the same influx of Divine wisdom gave rise to the parallel supremacy of both (see “3448”). But whereas the Greeks claimed this wisdom as their own, the Torah sages knew it was God’s. This knowing is the secret code, the mystery of the Oral Torah—the mystery of the Jewish heart.
The Greeks had no concept of this secret, and thus could not accept the Divine Source of the Oral Law (Resisay Lailah, p. 81a). They claimed possession of the Written Torah, now in Greek translation, and possessed the same logic as the Torah sages. What uniqueness could the Jewish people still claim? So they decreed that the Jews engrave on the horns of their oxen, “We have no portion in the God of Israel.” The engraving would symbolize that only the Written, the “engraved,” Torah is relevant, and since the Greeks possessed this as well, the Jews had no “monopoly” on the “God of Israel” by virtue of an Oral Torah (Bnei Yissaschar, Kislev III:4).
And they enacted decrees directly against the Oral Torah: circumcision, the Sabbath, and the New Moon. The essence of Jewish circumcision goes beyond that practiced by gentiles: it is only from the Oral Law that we know that we are required to fold back the membrane. And not only is the proper observance of the Sabbath utterly dependent upon oral tradition, but the experience of the Sabbath can be known only through oral tradition. As for the New Moon, the foundation of the Jewish calendar and festivals, it was declared monthly by the Sages of the Oral Torah.
Thus, the Greeks offered swine blood on the Altar to symbolically demonstrate that they, too, were “kosher,” spiritual equals to the Jewish people. (In Jewish tradition, Greece is compared to a hybrid that is half wild pig. [Reb Tzadok of Lublin, Likutey Ma’amarim 119a]). They thought they had valid claim: their forefather, Yefet, and Abraham’s forebear, Shem—two sons of Noah—were two halves of one single soul, just as were Jacob and Esau (Galei Razia, Moholov 1812 ed., 40b-41a).
Indeed, the difference is subtle.
This difference can be compared to a narrow bridge—veer slightly and you’re over the side. And the only way you can cross this bridge safely and differentiate between Jew and gentile is with the secret of the Oral Torah. Since the Greeks denied its Divine origin, they burnt a Torah scroll on a bridge (Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 4:5). They did this to symbolize that there was no longer any difference between Jew and gentile. The Oral Torah was irrelevant, they claimed, and the Written Torah was no longer a unique Jewish possession.
…Interestingly, the pig will become kosher in the Future, indicating that all of mankind will know what the Jewish people know now (collection of sources in Reb Chaim Palagi’s Nefesh Chaim **). But there will always remain a difference (Likutey Moharan I: 21:9,11), although the difference will be subtle, indeed (Reb Tzadok of Lublin, Likutey Ma’amarim 119a).
c. 3625 Further decrees are passed in order to break the Jews’ spirit and turn them away from God: They may not observe the Sabbath, declare the New Moon, or perform circumcisions.