JUDGMENT AND DARKNESS
For the commandment [mitzvah] is a lamp and the teaching [Torah] a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.
~ Proverbs 6:23
There always were two ways to live in a world that is often dark and full of tears. We can curse the darkness or we can light a light.
~ Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
The wisdom of Proverbs 6:23 is connected with the well known verse of Psalm 119:105, “Your Word [Torah – teaching] is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”The context of the verse from Proverbs is a warning against the seductive, tempting call of the ‘adulteress’ that will attempt to lure the unsuspecting into her web of darkness. The Sages of Israel compare this to the call of the nations of the world, enticing Israel to turn away from their God and His path and to join with their belief systems and cultures.
God spoke through the words of Balaam, the prophet from the nations who instead of cursing Israel as he intended spoke blessing:
“Behold [Israel] is a people that dwells alone; and shall not reckon itself among the nations.” (Numbers 23:9)
This truth is greatly highlighted in the Festival of Hanukkah. Words that share the same root as Hanukkah are ‘dedication,’ as in chanukat bayit – the dedication of a house to the presence of God, and chinuch – education or learning. At the time of the Maccabees – the small band of Jewish hero-priests that overcame the then greatest army on earth, that of the Greek empire – Israel was facing the great temptation of Hellenism. After the occupation of Israel, the emperor, Antiochus Epiphanes, had defiled the Temple in Jerusalem and set up a giant statue of Zeus in the Holy Place. Antiochus also ruled that any obedience to the central commandments of God’s Word, such as circumcision, the observance of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, and the teaching of Torah, was forbidden on pain of death. The alternative message of Hellenism was the beauty and strength of the physical body, the capriciousness of the distant gods, and the grandeur of man’s philosophical thought.
Many Jews succumbed to the seduction, but the call of the Maccabees was two-fold: 1. “Mi l’HaShem alai!” which echoed the cry of Moses after the sin of the Golden Calf – “Whoever is for HaShem, the God of Israel, come and stand with me.” And 2 – the acrostic for the name Maccabee, Mi Camocha B’elim Adonai? “Who is like Thee among the gods, YHVH, O Lord?” (Exodus 15:11). Those who would resist the temptation of the “gold” of the world and would exalt and cleave to the God of Israel would together become a force that would miraculously overcome the impossible natural odds and enable the victory of light over darkness.
One of the blessings we recite when lighting the Hanukkah candles is:
“Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who wrought miracles for our forefathers in those days at this season.”
The hidden and obvious miracles and wonders of God are always at work. Passover reveals how the supernatural and public miracles of God brought redemption and deliverance for His people. With the miracles of Hanukkah, He remains ‘hidden’ and requires the participation of those whose unwavering faith was in Him and who were determined to fight against the enemies of God and Israel.
Even while the Maccabees, a family of priests, rose up against the impossible odds of the world’s strongest army they knew that victory could only come through the help and power of God on their behalf. They saw that where they were weak He was strong. They refused to see the negatives stacked up against them and persevered in faith, for Kiddush HaShem – the sanctification of the Name of God. Just as the poet-warrior, King David, when he was victorious over his enemies, proclaimed: “YOU have girded me with strength for the battle; You have subdued my adversaries beneath me” (Psalm 18:40).
While recognzing the miracle of the military victory, the main focus of Hanukkah is the miracle of the oil, which occurred in the hidden-from-public sanctuary of the Holy Place and was witnessed by the faithful warrior-priests themselves.
LIGHT AND DARKNESS
It is interesting to note that Rosh Chodesh Tevet, the start of this the darkest of months, always falls during the final days of Hanukkah. The name Tevet shares a root with ha’Tavat ha’Nerot – the preparation of the candles, and with the word tov – good! The commentary Sfat Emet (The Language of Truth) says: “HaShem prepared the cure before the illness, so that the kindling of the Hanukkah lights will illuminate not only the eight days of Hanukkah but also all the darker days of Tevet.” The meaning of the Hanukkah candles lies in our “seeing” their light.
Another important “seeing” occurred in Tevet. During times when the world seems to be submerged in a flood of darkness and evil, the story of Noah reminds us that it was “…in the the tenth month, on the first day of the month (Rosh Chodesh Tevet), the tops of the mountains became visible” (Genesis 8:5). Hope was restored. Together with God’s covenant promise in the shining colors of the rainbow, a brighter future was in sight. Darkness and lies must give way to the power of light and truth. The lights of Hanukkah convey the message of the eternal glory of God, the victory of redemption, the remembrance of Olam HaBa, the eternal World to Come, and the heights of joy. Today we have the assurance of the promise that God is “watching over His word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12). We can keep our eyes on the “mountain top” and keep climbing!
GOOD AND EVIL – TOV VE’RAH
Other pairs of opposites that correspond to light and darkness are Ayin haTov ve’Ayin ha’Rah – the good eye and the evil eye, and Yetzer ha’Tov ve’Yetzer Ha’Rah – the good and evil inclinations. These concepts also tie in with our focus of the month on Judgment. How we see and perceive something will affect the judgment we make in connection with it. We can view it with an ayin tovah, a good and positive eye, or with an ayin rah, a bad and negative eye. Two people can interpret a situation in totally opposite ways.
“Two men looked through prison bars. One saw mud, the other stars.”
The hope inherent in the month, however, is that transformation can take place. In the light and power of God, blind eyes can be opened, prisoners can be set free, and hearts of stone can become hearts of flesh. Negative vision can be healed and transformed. Good can triumph over evil. Another Torah commentary, Ohr Yitzchak, The Light of Isaac, points out that the only body parts that can be adversely affected by a grain of sand are the eyes. The eyes are the windows of the soul. Our God-breathed soul is so pure and holy that, unless it has been totally numbed, it suffers pain and distress from the slightest interference of evil from the material world.
This understanding affects how we see and judge ourselves and others. How we see things and the judgments we make as a result, are influenced by our Good and Evil inclinations. We all have these and a constant tug-of-war goes on in our minds between the two. The yetzer ha’rah, evil inclination, can be summed up in one word – Ego – or selfishness. The yetzer ha’tov, good inclination, is expressed in “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The sage Hillel captures the nuances of this well in his teaching: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself what am I?” (Pirkei Avot). Our good intentions towards others must be based on a healthy self-esteem, which does not result in pride, but is acquired only through genuine humility.
JUDGMENT IN BALANCE
Lack of compassion <———— Judgment —————> Excess of sentiment
No mercy Fairness No wisdom
Cruelty Love Foolishness
The large or small decisions we make every day are based on our judgment and analysis of each situation we face. Humans are the only created beings that can, to some extent, anticipate the results of our actions and foresee possible consequences. Therefore we are responsible for the consequences of our actions; whether voluntary or involuntary, deliberate or inadvertent. We are called to be responsible, as far as is possible, for what we do now that will affect what will happen later. An important factor involved is our grasp of the reality of Olam Ha’Zeh, this world, and Olam HaBa, the world to come.
Do we understand that our actions here, in this physical, material world, based on our thoughts and inclinations, affect what happens in the spiritual, eternal World to Come?
Central to this understanding is our relationship with, and judgment of, other people. Everything taught to us in the word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, as Yeshua clarified, has the basic premise of, firstly, to love our Father in Heaven and then to love those He places in our path. The latter is not in an abstract sense but in every day practical ways. Our personal, spiritual growth takes place in the context of how we relate to those close to us or with whom we are in some way connected. We should always be asking questions such as: How do I act so as not to cause harm to another? How can I fix things if I do cause damage? Do I always consider the other person’s point of view?
Of course the question arises, “What if the other has deliberately done me harm?”
It is very difficult to try and understand the perspective of an enemy, and to forgive any harm done. Interestingly, in line with the mercy and compassion of God, Mussar teacher Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler comments:
No one is held accountable for the evil to which he is accustomed to from birth and as a result of his environment, never having learned any better. In this respect he is: “A child taken captive and brought up among idolaters.” He will be held responsible only for that which he could have and should have learnt.
In our judgment of others, how are we able to discern that? Only God knows the heart and is the only one to make judgment on any person. In any relationship situation we can remember the first brothers. In the first sin against “loving your neighbor,” Cain asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Rather than confessing and repenting of his sin of jealousy and murder, he was condemned to suffer the punishment he incurred.
Cain’s problem lay in viewing the sacrifices he and Abel made to God as a competition. Abel won and he lost. The dictionary describes competition as :
1. The act of competing, rivalry.
2. A contest in which a winner is selected from any two or more entrants.
There is only one winner; one “first place.” Good parents or coaches may assure us: “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” This carries some truth and can generate a sense of healthy and enjoyable competition. We soon discover, however, that in the material world that is rarely the case. The general worldly aim in the fields of sports, school, business, whatever, is to vanquish one’s rivals and come out “top of the heap!” This culturally inbred attitude of unhealthy competition can have a direct bearing on our judgment, both of ourselves and of others.
The lights of Hanukkah carry a different and precious truth. Jewish author, Shimon Apisdorf, describes it well:
To be a star, a brilliant source of light, you don’t have to be brighter than the other stars. To be good does not mean that you have to be better than anyone else. To be wise does not mean that you have to be the wisest of all people. To be kind does not mean that you have to be the kindest person anyone has ever met, and to be holy – to soar spiritually, does not mean that you have to be the holiest person of all.
Our Father sees each of His children as a beloved source of light. We need not evaluate our worth in term of anyone else’s light but our own. Happily, the more we learn to value ourselves the more we will value others. As Apisdorf concludes: “In the realm of spirituality and true human accomplishment, there is no room for competition, yet there is room for a world full of winners.”
This is a world sparkling with a myriad shining little flames. Let us make it our business this Tevet to recognise and encourage the other precious lights around us.
~ Keren Hannah