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Browse Zemanim: Hanoukah: Purely Academics

Contributed by: R. Ezra Mizrahi

After celebrating a beautiful Hanoukah, an important lesson emerges that is so subtle that one might miss it if one is not careful.

After reciting "Al Hanisim" during each and every Amidah and Birkat Hamazon of the eight days of Hanoukah, one notices a repetition in the beginning of the prayer. In describing the evils intentions of the Greek empire towards the Jews of the time, we read that they wanted to: "Leshakeham Toratach, Oulehaaviram Mehouqe Rissonach" "literally means that the Greeks wanted" to cause them [the Jews] forget Your [Hashem's] Torah, and cause them to transgress the laws of Your [Hashem's] will."

Indeed, we quickly pass over these words. The text describes two different methods that the Greeks used to try to destroy the Jews. They tried to have the Torah be forgotten from Jewish minds, and they wanted Jews to transgress on Torah laws. To better sharpen our understanding of these two different approaches, historically we find two individuals who employed those methods. Antiyochus, the Greek king in the time of the miracle of Hanoukah, tried to make the Jews transgress the laws. He forced Jews to not observe normative Torah laws. If one was found performing a missvah, he was put to death, causing others to fear for their lives and transgress on Biblical law.

Ptolemy the Greek, who ruled over Egypt, used the other method. He gathered Jewish elders together and had them write a Greek translation to the Torah (Megilah 9a). On the surface, one might feel that Ptolemy just wanted to learn some Torah and needed it translated to understand it.

But what was his real goal?

Ptolemy the Greek wanted to turn the Torah into a discipline, one that everyone could partake in, Jew or gentile. Once he succeeded in doing that, detaching the nation of feeling the elated spiritual connection to a holy text, the Torah would be forgotten, like a chemistry equation you learned in 7th grade.

We can even connect this idea to the debate in the Gemara as to how the Mal'ach appeared to Yaacov before they fought. One opinion states that the Mal'ach appeared as a learned Talmid Hacham, trying to undermine Yaacov by gaining his trust and not acting overtly against him (Leshakeham Toratach-Ptolmey); while the other opinion states that he appeared as a non-Jewish person, overtly going against Yaacov (Oulehaaviram Mehouqe Rissonach - Antiyochus).

We must be aware of both these methods of assault on our faith, in order to better protect ourselves in galut. In a very real modern day example of this concept, one has to be weary of the "purely academic professorial approach" of learning Torah, because many times, the goals of such professors is to uproot fundamental principles and beliefs that are steadfast in our faith. We must educate ourselves and not be naive to think that such people have no ulterior motives. Only then can we continue to grow with our Torah, learn from our Rabbis in our proud tradition and ultimately become better Jews.

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