Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Religious Freedoms

This week we celebrate the holiday of Chanuka. As we know, when we celebrate holidays we are not simply commemorating an event which occurred tow or three thousand years ago. We are in fact reliving this same event. As The Ramchal writes, the same spiritual energy (nitzotzos hakedusha) that was brought into effect at the time of the miracle, is also present at the same time every year.

So the miraculous story of Chanuka is not an event where we sit around the fire, tell ancient stories of the great military victories of the Maccabies, and give each other the latest toys based on insipid television show characters. It is an opportunity for us to regain the inspiration and passion for Hashem and the Torah that our ancestors fought so hard top preserve.

What made them fight for these ideals? When the Greeks forbade the Jewish people from performing the commandments, the Jews fought back and ultimately were able to gain their religious autonomy (later they were able to gain political independence as well, but this political independence is not commemorated, by any holiday).

There is an interesting paradox: why in the story of Purim, when King Achashverosh, (Xerxes), decreed death upon the Jewish nation, the Jewish people did not fight, but instead davened, while in the story of Chanuka, they fought and davened?

In order to understand this, we must first look at the dynamics of these two exiles. In the Persian exile, when the story of Purim occurred, the decree was to simply annihilate the Jewish people.

But the decree imposed during Chanuka, in the Greek exile, was not one of physical annihilation, just spiritual. In fact, many Jews were on the side of the Greeks against the observant Jews who persisted in their “outdated and antiquated ways”.

The Gemara in several places (Brochos 33b; Megilah 25a) mentions the rule: everything is in the hands of Heaven (Hashem), excluding the fear of Heaven. This means that the actions that we perform shape our judgement. So our fear of Heaven, which is manifest by exercising our free will, will dictate how things out of our control affect us. The only way which we can change our decree is to change our will. This is done through prayer. So in the story of Purim, the Jewish people, were subject to such a harsh decree because of their actions. The only way to change this decree was to change the will. The only way this could be done was through tefila.

When our religious freedoms are in danger that is not something in the hands of Heaven. Such a situation falls under the category of “Fear of heaven”, as our observance of the commandments is dependent on our own free will. In such a situation, although prayer is a helpful tool used to strengthen our relationship with Hashem, the fact is only we can change the decree.

Therefore the Jewish people, led by Matisyahu and his five sons, fought the Greeks, although they were hugely outnumbered.

When we relive Chanuka this year, we must remember how much we can accomplish just through our desire to observe the commandments.

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