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, Oh