Chanukah is observed towards the end of the month of Kislev; but with no other holiday until spring, the entire month takes on the festive mood of the upcoming holiday. For Kew Gardens Hills resident Sammy Goldsmith, the yahrzeit of his mother Barbara Goldsmith also occurs in this month. To honor her memory, he invited Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, his 11th grade rebbe at DRS, and now the director of the Semicha Program at Yeshiva University, to speak on Jewish pride as it relates to Chanukah.
“When my oldest son first told me the Chanukah story, he said that the Y’vanim came into the Beis HaMikdash and they caused a big mess,” he said. “But that’s not what it looked like. The oil was simply ritually impure; it was opened and closed, and put right back on the shelf.” Rabbi Lebowitz was quoting Maseches Midos, a short tractate in the Talmud that provides details on the Beis HaMikdash.
The holy precinct atop the Har HaBayis had its walls, each one ringing an area that had a greater degree of holiness and restrictions on who could enter. “We read that they breached through the wall, but there were only 13 breaches.” The gentile army did not have to rely on ladders or towers. “They simply walked right over the Soreg, the low-elevation divider. Everything was done with precision.”
To an outside observer, the Temple building appeared as it did before Antiochus IV decreed its desecration. The Syrian-Greeks did not seek to eradicate Judaism entirely, but instead to demonstrate that all religions are equal.
In Midrash VaYikra Rabbah, we are told of Jews being forced to write on the horn of an ox. “This relates to the story of a king’s meal. The person being defamed is investigated by the king and found innocent,” Rabbi Lebowitz said. The parable relates to the purpose of the ox as a reminder of the incident when Jews built a status of a bull in the Sinai desert. “The Y’vanim said to do what you want but your religion is no different from others. Remember that you worshipped the eigel.” At that moment, the Israelites were shotim, fixated on one thing, the absence of Moshe Rabbeinu.
The initial Greek program of religions coexisting as equals gave way to persecution. “The Syrian-Greeks banned Rosh Chodesh, Shabbos, and Nidah. Rosh Chodesh gives certain power over nature to the Beis Din, including the leap year and moving a birthday. Shabbos has the Havdalah that separates us from other nations. This is why they also banned bris milah.”
After all of this was said, Rabbi Lebowitz said that Jewish pride is about having the sense of family, and that with Chanukah there is more to learn than what appears on the surface. Like a dish that comes into contact with hot treif food, its appearance does not change, and neither did the oil of the Menorah. It is the Jewish presence keeping watch over the oil, keeping out foreign religious influences, that keeps it kosher.
By Sergey Kadinsky