Throughout Jewish history, our people have been challenged by a variety of temptations. The yeitzer hara comes in many stripes and colors. There was a time when we were sorely tested by the temptation of idolatry. At other times, the lure of black magic – known as kishuf, the practices of necromancy – communication with the dead, and other acts of sorcery caused us to sway from Toras Hashem.
But, if we were to chart out the nisionos, trials, confronting our people throughout history, they would fall into two distinct categories: Times of persecution and periods of assimilation. In our American society, it is the latter challenge that is dominant. Thank G-d we are not inhibited from going to shul on Shabbos because of a fear of anti-Semitic reprisals. Moreover, if we are lacking in attention during our prayers, it is not because we are worried about the jackboots of the Gestapo.
When Yaakov prayed to Hashem to save him from harm when Eisav was approaching, he said, “Hatzileini na mi’yad achi, mi’yad Eisav – Save me from the hands of my brother, from the hands of Eisav.” The commentators all point out that Yaakov only had one brother. Why was it necessary to elaborate, “My brother – Eisav”? Furthermore, why does the Torah repeat the phrase ‘from the hands of’ twice? They explain that Yaakov was asking Hashem to save him and his descendants throughout the ages from the different faces of Eisav, from the hands of Eisav when he acts like an enemy – such as during the days of Haman, a direct descendant of Eisav – but then Yaakov also prayed that Hashem should save him from Eisav and other enemies when they behave like his brother for it is then that Eisav can prove even more dangerous – influencing Yaakov’s descendants with their sinful, deceitful and decadent ways.
When Yaakov heard that Eisav was coming, the Torah says, “Vayira Yaakov meod, vayeitzer lo – Yaakov was very afraid, and it also distressed him.” Chazal explain that he was afraid that Eisav might hurt him. On the other hand, he was distressed that if Eisav came as a friend, he would impact dreadfully upon his family. Indeed, when finally, Eisav and Yaakov had their dramatic meeting and Eisav suggested, ‘Let’s travel together,’ Yaakov declined, begging off with the information that “Ha’yeladim rakim – The children are tender,” and that he needed to travel at a special pace. But, the more profound meaning behind Yaakov’s statement is that he was worried about the tender vulnerabilities of his children. He didn’t want to scar or dent their fragile spirituality with exposure to the materialistic and sinful Eisav.
With this, Yaakov is teaching us an important concern. Ofttimes, we feel that we could bring someone into our houses whose morals and ethics are not up to par, for we feel confident that we have the spiritual backbone not to be affected by this person’s irresponsible lifestyle. Yaakov teaches us that even if this were the case (which is highly debatable), our concern has to be about our children. They don’t have the same spiritual inhibitions as we do and an exposure to people who have questionable behaviors can maim their souls in very dangerous ways.
It has been said that that which Hitler, yemach shmo v’zichro, was not able to accomplish with the stick, American culture has been successful with honey. Jews who stubbornly held steadfast to the traditions of their ancestors in the face of the crematoria surrendered them to the lure of intermarriage and assimilation. This is the message of the Chanukah festival. At the time of the Syrian-Greeks, we were initially not confronted by the spears and bows of the Yavonim but rather by the magnificent worldly temptations of the beauty of ancient Greece. The Torah cautions, “Yaft Elokim l’Yefes – Hashem will make beautiful Yefes,” and the Gemora elaborates, “Yafyuso shel Yefes Yavon – The zenith and pinnacle of the beauty of Yefes was Yavon,” ancient Greece. It was the lure of the sensual pleasures, the gastronomic delights, the arts and recreation of the Yavonim that threatened, “L’hashkicham Torasecha, ul’haaviram meichukei retzonecha – To cause our people to forget the Torah and to remove them from the mitzvahs of Hashem.”
The teeny lights of the menorah which represent the Eternal lights of the Afterlife and the Eternal wisdom of the Torah are kindled in our home to impress upon our children that this light is the focal point of our lives and not the neon lights of Manhattan or any other temporal shine that one can experience in the hedonistic culture in which we live. In this way, Chanukah’s message is most vital for a 21st century family that is trying to raise its children to be Torah Jews in the midst of the hedonistic cesspool that is the makeup of much of modern-day culture.
It is a daunting task for, clothed in our human shells, the glow of temporary brightness is sorely tempting. Chanukah is a time that we make it our business to impress upon our family that throughout the ages Jews have faithfully and successfully overcome the temptations and lure of gashmius to lead a more meaningful spiritual life that promises the everlasting permanent brightness of Ohr Haganuz, the Eternal Light which Hashem hid for the righteous in the World to Come.
Let me take this opportunity to wish my loyal readers and their families a very healthily, happy, and wonderful Chanukah, and may we all live to see the kindling of the Menorah in the new Beis HaMikdash – to be built speedily in our days.