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This week we celebrate Chanukah, the Yuntif in which the Jews defeated the Greeks in a struggle to preserve Jewish heritage from the onslaught of creeping Hellinistic cultural imperialism. We commemorate this great event, of course, by reenacting the joy, the lights and the gift giving of Christmas, extended over an eight day period.
(When I was a young bocher, we were so poor that my tahti used to give me potatoes for Chanukah. And I was lucky. The children next door used to get egg shells. Nowadays, poor orphans, Rachmanah Letzlan, can only get XBOX One games to play on their 40 inch LCD TVs. Uchinvei.)
RASHI asks a penetrating question: Why do we even bother celebrating Chanukah, given all the bad that came out of the Chashmonaim, the Hasmonians:
- They ignored the legacy of Malchus Bais Dovid, the Davidic dynasty, and replaced it with their own;
- They replaced the priestly leadership of the descendants of Tzaddok, in place since the time of Shlomo Hamelech, with a competing strand of the priesthood;
- After one generation in power, they became the most despotic regime in the history of Jewish sovereignty;
- And they sanctified gambling in the form of the dreidel, a game I cannot win no matter how much I cheat.
Indeed, Chazal had such ambivalent feelings about Chanukah, they never gave the holiday it's own masechta (tractate) in the Talmud. So why should we care?
The Rabbeinu Tam answers that had it not been for the Chashmonaim, we would now all be wearing dresses in the street and walking around naked in the Gymnasium, with earrings in our foreskins.
The Rabbeinu Mordechai responds farkhert, that hallevai we should all be wearing dresses and walking around naked. That sure beats pogroms, terrorism, and having to pay yeshiva tuition. He suggests, instead, that we celebrate Chanukah out of respect for our parents' generation, who, quite frankly, didn't know any better.
The RAMBAN takes a totally different approach. He suggests that Chazal instituted Chanukah solely to satisfy the powerful olive oil lobby in ancient times. In reality, Chanukah was the compromise. The lobby was pushing for a "Let's rub olive oil all over each other and go to the mikvah together" Yuntif, but it sounded a bit too Greek.
On this topic, the Sifsey Chachomim brings down a beatiful gemmarah in Nidah, which tells the following maaiseh shehoyo: Rish Lakish went ot the mikveh one day with the Raish Gelusa. While he was being toivel-zeyn (immersing himself in the waters) someone stole his clothing. Rish Lakish turned to the Raish Gelusa, "Can you lend me your cloak so I can go out and get replacement clothing?"
"I cannot lend you my cloak, but I would gladly rent it to you for 100 zuzum," the Raish Gelusa answered. At that point, Rish Lakish hit the Raish Gelusa on the head with a rock and walked away with his cloak AND his wallet. (The Raish Gelusa was later found by Nachum Ish Gamzu, who brought him over to Ben Drusoy's house to be revived with a little snack.)
The Sifsey Chachomim points out that while assaulting the Raish Gelusa was wrong, Rish Lakish was only responding to the Raish Gelusa's unreasonable demands. So rather than fault Rish Lakish in the story, we should hold him in great esteem and emulate his every action, especially with Goyim and the Reformed.
So too with Chanukah. Whatever wrongs were later done by the Chashmonaim and their descendants, they were responding to such travesties as hogs in the Bais Hamikdash and men in designer skirts. That the Aimishteh chose to make these future despots the heros of the day reveals His dark sense of humor, as well as his faithful commitment to seeing the Jews oppressed, even at the hand of their own.
The ARI ZAHL compares Chanukah to a Bris Milah. Like a Bris, Chanukah is achieved over a period of eight days. Like with the birth of a son, gifts are exchanged. And like with a Bris, we end Chanukah with some portion of us stripped away, taken by the Moyhel or the Toys-R-Us clerk, whichever the case may be. The ARI ZAHL's mystical explanation is that the eight day cycle is linked to cosmic activities involved in rescuing the lost holy sparks from the Tehom, in a effort to restore mankind and creation to their original purity.
In other words, they both make about as much sense as men wearing designer skirts.
Ah Gutten Yuntif, you Minuval
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess