In the Al HaNissim insertion to Shmona Esrei and Birkas HaMazon, we mention that the Greeks attempted to cause us to forget the Torah. How can a person cause someone else to forget? Could they induce amnesia, and how?
If this attempt to make us forget the Torah was the great threat they posed, how does the conclusion of the prayer portray our ultimate victory? How is the statement that upon redeeming the Beis HaMikdash the Chashmonaim lit candles in the Holy Courtyard a fitting response to this danger?
In general, it is surprising that in Al HaNissim the primary emphasis is on the challenge to learning Torah, while in Megillas Antiochus it is not mentioned. There, the Megilla records only that the Greeks declared a prohibition against observing Shabbos, conducting Bris Mila and celebrating Rosh Chodesh.
Also, why was the focus of the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash on lighting the Menora? Surely, the Hellenists had insured the cessation of all of the Korbanos and the Lechem HaPanim as well.
Rabbi Eliahu Mizrachi famously asks in his glosses on the Smag, why did the Jews require pure oil altogether? The Halacha is that when the majority of the Jewish people or the vessels in the Beis HaMikdash are impure, the service may be conducted in impurity. The entire miracle of the oil was unnecessary, as they could have easily located oil that was Tamei and fulfilled the Mitzva with that?
When the Gemara in Shabbos describes the history underlying Chanuka, it concludes that the following year to the events in the Beis HaMikdash the sages enacted the new holiday of Chanuka in commemoration. Why did they wait twelve months; the miracle was apparent immediately?
We have asked a lot of questions, now let’s try to develop an answer.
Yavan was descended from Yefes, who was described in Parshas Noach as the epitome of beauty. However, while ancient Greece certainly put great emphasis on physical aesthetics; their love of beauty was not limited to that sphere. Greece also put great value on scientific knowledge and philosophical wisdom; and this was included in their appreciation of perfection in the world. Their perspective on these fields was similar to their view of sports, military prowess and art; they strove for the ultimate in human perfection. Their entire goal was to demonstrate a form of כוחי ועוצם ידי, human achievement as a goal in and of itself.
This pursuit led them to a direct conflict with the wisdom of the Torah, which is primarily based on the foundation of a Divine revelation at Sinai. Our primary goal is not human innovation; it is maintaining a pristine connection to the previous generations of Torah scholars.
In this context, the Gemara in Bechoros that describes the interaction between a Greek scientist researching the gestation of the snake and one of the Chachomim is better understood. When the Greek heard that the information that took him years of study was readily known to the Torah scholar, he was furious. He had no wish to familiarize himself with the Torah’s wellsprings of information; he solely wished the opportunity to innovate utilizing his skills to their maximum.
The Rambam records that Aristotle was wise enough that he could have merited prophesy; had he only been willing to accept the Mesora of a Divine revelation and tradition. Alexander the Great was a student of Aristotle, and Antiochus of Chanuka notoriety was Alexander’s successor.
With that perspective, we can see that since the wisdom of the Torah stood in direct opposition to their weltshnaung of purely human achievement, they made every effort to undermine its study. A true scholar of the Torah is capable of knowing all of the physical sciences without effort (of course, today this skill is lost to us). The Torah is described as our “Wisdom and knowledge in the eyes of the nations”. Antiochus was not opposed in any way to the study of wisdom and knowledge, and would have been very happy to compete on a level playing field with the best of Jewish scientists and philosophers. What he couldn’t tolerate was the unfair advantage afforded one knowledgeable in the wisdom of the Torah. They were jealous that the epitome of human achievement could not compete with the Divine.
The decrees against Shabbos , Mila and Rosh Chodesh were a tactic in attempting to deny the Jewish Nation their advantage and severing our special connection, as these three Mitzvos are unique in the symbolizing our unique bond with Hashem. Shabbos demonstrates our lofty spiritual position, as Hashem enacted it as an opportunity for us to attest to His creation of the world. Bris Mila demonstrates that Hashem, while perfect Himself and certainly capable of creating a perfect organism, left the human body unfinished. Through the Mitzva of Mila, we become Hashem’s partner in the perfection of the human body, in a manner that science cannot replicate. While Rosh Chodesh and the organization of the calendar may appear to be an almost insignificant precept, the Yevanim realized it for what it truly is. Hashem gave the Jewish Nation control over time. Beis Din has the power to determine when a month or year commences, and the physical world will follow their decision.
These three examples of the Jewish people’s special relationship with the Creator were targeted by the Greeks as a means to force the Jews to compete purely based on their human abilities and renounce their uniqueness.
While the initial giving of the Torah on Har Sinai was the starting point for this relationship, the continued flow of Divine inspiration and Torah utilized the Menora as its conduit. The Gemara in Berachos states that one who views olives in a dream can expect wisdom, and one who wishes success in his learning should face slightly southward when Davening; as the Menora was located on the Southern side of the Beis HaMikdash.
Antiochus realized this, and accordingly targeted it for defilement. Apparently, he also realized that rendering the oil impure was sufficient, it would have been superfluous to destroy it. While the technical Mitzva of kindling the Menora could be fulfilled with impure oil, the special connection it granted would not be achieved. This was the tactic to make the Jews “forget” the Torah.
When the Chashminaim accomplished their monumental victory, their first duty was to reboot this attachment, and for that purpose they were prepared to expend superhuman efforts to acquire pure oil. Now we can understand why kindling the Menora in the Holy Courtyard was a direct counterpunch to the attempt to break the link in the Torah’s Mesora.
Furthermore, the victory and even the miracle of the long-burning oil were not the end themselves. The goal was reestablishing the special relationship between Hashem, the Torah and the Jewish Nation. The success at this ultimate mission was not immediately apparent. Only after a year passed could they be certain their goal had been accomplished.
In this manner, the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash was not simply a renewal of the desecrated Second Temple; it was its initial consecration. The Gemara relates that the first Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because people did not make a Beracha before learning Torah. This seeming minor transgression was symptomatic of a perspective that Torah study did not require a special blessing. Such a view is a critical error; as if they perceived the Torah as a simple wise, ancient book of wisdom, they were forsaking its true worth. Only when the Chashmonaim risked their lives to rekindle the true appreciation of the Torah’s worth was the initial error rectified. Only once they caused the Menora to renew its conduit of Divine wisdom did they completely rectify the situation that had led to the destruction of the previous Temple. Though the physical structure had been rebuilt some 200 years previously, its true function was only restored as part of Chanuka.
May we all merit the Divine wisdom of the Torah and the speedy renewal of the Menora in the Third Beis HaMikdash.