Torahlinks > Holidays > The Shield In The Window – Chanukah

The Shield In The Window – Chanukah

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Imagine walking down the street one Chanukah day and a peculiar sight catches your eye. In your neighbor’s window you see in a large shield on display next to their menorah.  Amused, you note how clever your neighbor is. But then you stop and think, “Why isn’t there a ritual to remember the miraculous war where the Jews prevailed over the Greeks? We have a ritual to remember the miracle of the oil – shouldn’t there also be a ritual to commemorate the miracle of the war as well?” As your thought process starts to warm up, you might take your pondering one step further and ponder, “We actually do do something to commemorate the miraculous war: We mention it in the special prayer that we add during Chanukah, to thank G-d for saving us, Al Hanisim. But if you study the content of that prayer, you may notice that it only speaks only about the miraculous war victory and doesn’t mention anything at all about the miracle of the oil! It seems that our celebrations for each of these great miracles are the reverse of what one would logically expect. It stands to reason that the physical miracle of winning the war should be commemorated with a physical act. For the miracle of the tiny bit of oil burning for eight days one would think that we should express our awe and gratitude with a prayer, because that miracle was connected to the mitzvah of lighting the menorah, something of spiritual nature, in the Beit Hamikdash, The Holy Temple!

We can resolve this apparent contradiction by exploring the deeper meaning of what the clash between the Jews and the Greeks was really about. The real conflict between the Jews and the Greeks, although it culminated in a physical war, was essentially an ideological battle. The Greeks believed that the purpose of life is the pursuit of pleasure. The physical world around us is for the purpose of self-indulgence, totally for the sake of physical pleasure. The Torah’s perspective, however, is that the physical world and all of its pleasures are here for us to use as ways to connect with G-d and develop our spirituality. For example, before eating, we look at the delicacies in front of us and we make a blessing, thanking G-d for giving us this great food. That creates a connection between the consumer and G-d. The physical war between the Jews and the Greeks was a result of a clash of ideologies.  The result was a victory for our beliefs and the principles of our religion.

The reason why we don’t have a specific Chanukah ritual to recall the physical war is so that we won’t misunderstand what the Jews really fought for and prevailed. On the contrary, we only mention the war in a spiritual context – a prayer – to keep our focus on what the war was really about: the preservation of our religion and our traditions. Conversely, we commemorate the miracle of the oil with a physical ritual to show that we can uplift the material world and infuse spirituality into the physical objects around us.

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Rabbi Mayer Erps is the Educational/Youth director of Torah Links of Middlesex County. In addition, he gives classes for the MTV Hebrew High program and prepares the boys for their Bar Mitzvah. He is a sought after lecturer who has inspired diverse audiences for over a decade.

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