The Ancient Greeks have contributed a great deal to society. They played an important part in the development of the alphabet (the first two letters of the Greek alphabet – alpha and beta – have given us the word ‘alphabet’) and their building methods and structures together with their admiration of sport have made their mark until today.
When the Greeks first officially met with Jewish society, there seemed to be a great respect towards Judaism. We are told that the Greek Ruler TalmaiHamelech demanded that the Sages translate the Torah into Greek.
The Talmud further relates that when Alexander the Great and his conquering legions advanced upon Jerusalem, they were met by a delegation of elders, led by the High Priest Shimon HaTzaddik. When Alexander saw Shimon approaching, he dismounted and prostrated himself before the Jewish Sage.
To his astonished men, Alexander explained that each time he went into battle; he would see a vision in the likeness of this High Priest leading his troops to victory.
In gratitude, and out of profound respect for the spiritual power of the Jews, Alexander was a kind and generous ruler. He cancelled the Jewish taxes during Sabbatical years, and even offered animals to be sacrificed on his behalf in the Temple.
Unfortunately, history would show that Alexander’s heirs failed to sustain his benevolence.
What happened? Why did it all go so wrong? Why did the Greeks turn, and what were they aiming for in their battle against us?
The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek philosophia, which literally means “love of wisdom. The Greeks were a talented nation, they loved wisdom and depth. Yet when they got to know and understand the Jews they realised that the Jews didn’t just treat the Torah as a book of wisdom, rather they treated it as having a further dimension, one connected to Hashem.
For the Greeks, the Torah offered wisdom, and was a book like any other book of wisdom. They did not wish to connect the Torah to Hashem. Rather, they emphasised to the Jews that they should have ‘no part in the G-d of Israel’.
The Maharal states that the (numerical value) of the word Yavan (Greece) is 66. It shares the same Gematria as the word GalGal – circle (i.e. world), and the same Gematria as the words Haya, Hoveh, Yiheyeh (Was, Is, and Will be). The Greeks maintained that everything can be found in this world. The wisdom that one attains can be found by concentrating on the physicality’s. The body rules and there is no need to bring in Hashem. All can be found with the circular world.
Am Yisraeldiffer. We believe that the Torah is not just a book of wisdom and science; rather it is a book of connection to Hashem – Who rules the world. He decides on the future not us.
Have you ever wondered what significance there is in a Dreidel?
Tradition has it that we spin it around and play games to commemorate how the Jewish children yearned for Torah but could not learn in public. Instead they would hide in caves and learn. When the Greek soldiers would be near they would take out their Dreidels and pretend to play.
Our Sages offer a deeper meaning. The Dreidel has four distinct sides, representing the four directions of the compass and the four basic forms of matter – earth, water, air and fire, in other words, solid, liquid, gas and energy. A turn from above sets the Dreidel spinning and its features are obscured in one dizzying blur. But even as the eye beholds confusion, underneath everything comes together to one focal point, the vortex from which all power emanates, the unifying power of the Creator of the Universe. The Greeks thought that they were in charge of this world and through their wisdom could control all the events around them. We believe that our actions can make a difference in this world, but the underlying decision maker is Hashem. The Dreidel is spun, but at the end of the day it will land where Hashem wishes it too.
Once the Greeks realised that the Jews were learning the Torah as a service of G-d, they set edicts to destroy our link to Hashem. They forbid all Torah learning.
The ChafetzChaim was once asked, why is it that out of all the AvotAvrahamYitschak and Yakov the angel (Satan) decided only to attack Yaakov? Why didn’t he attack Avraham or Yitschak?
He answered that Avraham represented Chesed and YitschakAvoda (prayer). The Satan doesn’t mind if a Jew gives the whole day or if he prays the whole day – that for him is ‘small fish’. But when a Jew learns Torah, then that is a threat to him that he must try and destroy.
The Torah is a gift from Hashem that carries us from generation to generation. It’s the essence of the Jew.
The Greeks raged a war against our connection to Hashem.
It is for this reason that the miracle that occurred to us was through the Menorah.
A candle has two parts – the main body and the wick. Once you light the candle the main body slowly disintegrates but the light continues to burn the same. Similarly we are made of a body and a soul. We might think that the body rules, but as we get older we realise that the body will not be the same forever. It is the soul that is eternal.
ShlomoHamelechstated “Ki ner mitzvah v’Torahohr, the mitzvah is a lamp and Torah is the light” (Proverbs 6:23).
The soul is spiritual, yet it is tied to man’s body. In this respect, it compares to a lamp that emits lights – non-material – but is tied to the physical wick of the lamp (Maharal, NetivHaTorah Ch.16).
The Greeks sought to extinguish our soul, they sought to extinguish our real life thread. Our ancestors stood up and fought for the right path and were rewarded with finding the holy oil which miraculously lasted for 8 days.
As we commemorate the courage of our ancestors and the miracle performed by Hashem with the lighting of the candles we spin the Dreidel. The letters on it form acronym for nesgadolhayah sham – a great miracle happened there. The mystical teachers point out that the Gematria, of these four letters is equal to the Gematria of Mashiach.
Ultimately, when the mad spinning will finally come to an end, when the gray blur comes into focus and the true nature of creation is revealed, the world will be illuminated with the Divine Presence, which all will recognise and we will enter the Messianic age.