domingo, 13 de diciembre de 2009

Chanuka According to the Maharal of Praga

Chanuka According to the Maharal of Praga

Rav Yehuda Amital

In his work "Ner Mitzva," which purports to deal with Chanuka, the Maharal actually discusses this holiday very little. Rather, the significance of the book lies in the broad perspective which it affords us concerning the holiday, elucidating themes which remain meaningful to us today. The background of his analysis is the midrash regarding the four empires which ruled over the Jewish people (patterned after the vision of the four beasts in the Book of Daniel): Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome.

At the heart of this discussion lies the question of the inner meaning of the miracle of Chanuka. The straightforward answer recounts the persecution of the Jewish people at the hands of their Greek overlords, the desecration of the Temple, and God's miraculous intervention. Nevertheless, the essential question remains: in what way did the Jewish people become more enriched as a result of this trial and salvation?

A similar question exists with respect to the exodus from Egypt, from whence God took us out with signs and wonders. It is true that God caused us to descend to Egypt because of our transgressions, but this explanation is certainly insufficient. The sojourn in Egypt, the struggle to be free, and the redemption from there are recalled as essential experiences which shaped and formed the Jewish nation. The Jewish people become a unified whole as a result of having passed through the proverbial crucible of suffering. If, however, we relate to the exodus from Egypt as simply a tale of suffering and redemption, we shall not have understood its profundity. 

For this very reason, our sages explained in various midrashim the additional dimension which accrued to the Jewish people as a result of the exodus. The Maharal discusses this same dimension, namely the spiritual enrichment of the Jewish nation, with respect to the salvation brought about by the Maccabees. The struggle with Greece has a particular meaning for us which is expressed in the midrashic reading of the verse (Bereishit 9:27): "Yaft Elokim li-Yefet" - may God beautify Yefet (Greece), "ve-yishkon be-ohalei Shem" - and cause that beauty to rest among the Jews.

Every person contains hidden strengths and weaknesses. All of us pass years of our lives in routine and habit, which are punctuated by periods of challenge. During such testing times, many of one's latent abilities are revealed. When a person faces the danger of death, for instance, hidden reserves of strength come to the fore. Insights and leadership talents are suddenly revealed which are not at all expressed during normal life. There are those who find God precisely at times of struggle, and during trials of faith. This applies to the individual as well as to the nation. One may witness exceptional spiritual strength and courage during the course of a battle waged against persecution and the imposition of alien values and ideas. When salvation does not occur at the end, however, there is a genuine danger that those spiritual gains will be ephemeral. Human beings need time to translate sudden insights and unexpected abilities into well-paved paths of living, and the repose of salvation affords us this opportunity. 

By relating to salvation in this light, we begin to understand how the messianic redemption can only come about after the Jewish people undergo a series of preparatory steps.

The battles of Chanuka are not only great historical events but also important markers in the process of the building of the Jewish nation. They represent additional stages in the realization of our national destiny. According to the Maharal's reading, the building of the Jewish people does not imply the relegation of other nations to the periphery of history, but on the contrary reflects the striving of all of humanity to eventually realize its latent spiritual potential.

This explains the Maharal's fundamental thesis in Ner Mitzva. The world was initially created lacking completion, and must therefore undergo a process to bring it to wholeness. The deficiency of the world finds expression in human history, in the development of four great empires each of which presents a worldview irreconcilable with the notion of God's oneness. A midrash which the Maharal mentions at the beginning of his work amplifies this theme:

"'The world was formless and void, and darkness covered the deep waters; and God's spirit hovered over the waters' (Bereishit 1:2). Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish explained that the verse refers to the four empires: 'The world was formless' is a reference to Babylonia... 'Void' refers to Media... 'Darkness' refers to Greece, who darkened the vision of the Jewish people with their decrees... 'The deep waters' refers to Rome, whose eventual downfall is as inscrutable as the deep... 'God's hovering spirit'  refers to the spirit of the Messiah." (Bereishit Rabba 2:5)

Thus, the world is initially incomplete and becomes whole only at the time of the King Messiah. Between these two points in time is a lengthy historical process which brings eventual completion to the world. This process, however, involves conflicts between the four empires and the Jewish People. Each one of the four presents a culture, a set of values and a worldview which is antithetical to the desired state of completion. However, out of the struggle between these ideas and the Jewish People, the completed state can emerge.

Thus, the events of Chanuka represent the advancement of the process of completion stemming from the confrontation between Israel and Greece. The Greek empire bequeathed values which transformed humanity,  indicating the great spiritual vitality which they possessed. However, their spiritual underpinnings were incomplete, and only through confrontation with the Jewish People could they be integrated into their proper place in the service of God. With the removal of imperfection from the world, as represented by the downfall of the four empires and their flawed spiritual legacy, the world will finally achieve its unity and completion.
 In order to understand the miracle of the cruse of oil, we must consider the historical period in which the events occurred. In particular, we must examine the four empires which the Maharal (following Chazal) saw as focal points for historical development. 

Babylonia, the first of the four, represents the power of ruling and the unbridled desire to extend one's rule over all. It is dominion for its own sake. Persia expresses the pursuit of materialism and worldly desire. Greece, in contrast to the first two, represents an intellectual and rational approach in which ideas overpower and conquer. Rome is the conglomeration of the other three, and therefore the struggle with the legacy of that empire is the most difficult.

According to the Maharal, the Greek empire, which fought with its wisdom and ideas, was an outgrowth of Jewish influences. Much of Greek wisdom originated in Judaism and that is why the struggle against Greek cultural domination was particularly difficult. During the Babylonian and Persian periods, Judaism was still insular and had not yet begun to shed its light among the nations of the world. Its struggles with these empires were thus conducted against something external. Later, though, Judaism began to fulfill its purpose of radiating its teachings throughout the world, and the Greek empire grew out of this backdrop. This is why the struggle against Greece exacted many casualties: many were swayed by the attractions of Hellenism precisely because  its philosophy was predicated upon some genuinely enlightened ideas. Many Jews felt that Greek culture was in fact superior to our own and therefore the ideal of spreading the light of Torah was abandoned.

This is the unique meaning of the Chanuka miracle. The emphasis on tsingle cruse of oil that was sealed by the High Priest represents the remaining pure ideas which were not tainted by Hellenistic thought, and were thus the source of the eventual light which illumined the darkness of the world. A miracle was wrought and the laws of nature were suspended in order to demonstrate that the Jewish approach was both necessary and would eventually triumph. The halakha states that we must light the menora publicly until the marketplace empties of people ("ad she-tikhleh regel min ha-shuk"). Homiletically, we may interpret that to mean that the light must be kindled until "hergel," namely spiritual rote and the malaise which it breeds, are expelled from the world and the holy light of God's teaching takes its place. This light stems from an inner source which must be nurtured and then can radiate outwards.

At a time of persecution, the halakha maintains, it is sufficient to place the lights on one's table inside the home. Rabbi Zadok of Lublin explained this to mean that at a time of danger when the light cannot brighten the darkness of the world, it must at least brighten the interior of the soul. When the internal spiritual light is kindled and nurtured, it will eventually radiate outwards so that all will realize "that out of Zion shall teaching go forth, and the word of God from Jerusalem."

sábado, 12 de diciembre de 2009


Este año el inicio de Januka coincidió con la sidra vaieshev.  De ello aprendemos, que el relato de la Torah nos muestra a Iosef sufriendo como modelo de lo que jazal nos relatan en nuestras fuentes, de: prototipo mesiánico.
El hilo del relato deja un lado al patriarca asentado en la tierra de kenaan para centrarse en la vida de Iosef, ¿por qué ocurre ésto? porque en el sentido más profundo, mientras pareciera cortarse el habitual hilo narrativo, lo que ocurre en esferas más profundas es que Hakadosh Baruj Hu nos lleva vía Torah a ver como se va trayendo la luz del Mesías.  Por eso es que en el mismo relato de donde se extrae el prototipo "mashiaj ben iosef" es donde ocurre una caída, un descenso espiritual de Iehuda.
Éste momento de aparente depresión en la vida de Iehuda ocurre ya que es a él a quien corresponde traer la chispa del Mesías, y por ende, debe experimentar lo bajo para poder identificarse con Israel en sus momentos bajos y así cree en cada alma de Israel el imperativo de subir nuevamente.

Esa condición baja corresponde a todos los exilios (no sólo físicos, sino espirituales, pues la Divina Presencia aún se encuentra en la galut) y también se experimentó antes de Januka: los greco-sirios impusieron graves decretos, prohibieron  Torah, atentaron contra la intimidad del hogar y profanaron el Bet Hamikdash.

El pueblo judío, siguiendo el compromiso de ser luz, debe salir victorioso de lo bajo y entregarse por completo a la Torah con amor para poder activar la chispa del mashiaj ben iosef y realizar tikun de tal forma que podamos aproximar la redención y la rememoración del milagro de las luces, en ésta época de januka, corresponda también a una actitud de verdadera teshuva que irradie la luz de la Torah a todos los pueblos a fin de que ellos también se acerquen a Hashem a partir de su propia identidad.

Dijeron jazal: "los pueblos del mundo tienen sabiduría, pero sólo Israel tiene Torah"

Corresponde a Israel iluminar ésa sabiduría con la Torah, y rectificarla de modo que todo el mundo vuelva a H', bien sea como justos entre las naciones (bnei noaj), como guerim toshabim (residentes temporales) o como conversos.

Quiera H' (primero queramos nosotros), que muchos abandonen el comercio de almas, el imperialismo religioso y el sectarismo, y de ésta forma dejen de seguir los caminos griegos de imposición y violenta acusación.   Quiera H' que en ésta festividad de Januka, todos aprendamos que los caminos de la Torah son caminos de agradabilidad (darjei noam), de luz y de paz.

Jag januka sameaj!

miércoles, 3 de junio de 2009

What is a Former Christian Minister to Do, Convert?

What is a Former Christian Minister to Do, Convert?

By: Rabbi Tovia Singer

Shalom my friend,I am an ordained minister who has been studying the Hebrew roots of Christianity for around 10 years. Over time I have been forced to "unlearn" much of what I inherited and learned at higher levels of education. The bottom line is that much of Christianity is a false faith which detracts from the true faith given to all mankind at Sinai: Biblical Judaism.I am questioning converting. It seems to me that as a god-fearer I have the best of both worlds. Let me explain. Understanding the Laws of Noah, and then going on to choose those things that please Hashem and taking hold of His covenant in Isaiah 56 by acquiring other mitzvoth and incorporating them into my this not a better position for me to be in than full conversion where I would then be obligated to fulfill all the 613? You see where I live there is not a Jewish community close which could support me. Buying foods and meats killed in a kosher manner, observing regulations of travel on the Sabbath, etc....these seem to be so difficult living in a Gentile society today which is blind to Torah. Can you advise for I value your comments very much. Blessing on you and your family I pray. Shalom.

Rabbi Tovia's Answer:
You are raising an important question which is asked of me almost daily. 

What should a former Christian do when he discovers that the Almighty's salvation program has never changed, and the path to express His eternal truth is still uniquely realized within the Jewish faith? This is a dilemma which confronts so many seeking souls who have emerged from the church and have embarked on the very same spiritual journey you have.

Remember that you were created in the image of God and should walk in the path of the righteous gentile. This journey is realized by your commitment to observe the seven laws of Noah. There are thousands of men and women with your religious background who have come to proudly identify as a Noachide, or B'nai Noah (children of Noah). They diligently remain on this sacred path of observance of the seven Noachide laws, which will ultimately bring each of them into the presence of God for all eternity.

Be mindful that as you observe these seven mitzvoth, do not say in your heart, "I am performing these commandments because they make sense to my intellect and understanding." Rather, proclaim that you are fulfilling them because the God of Israel commanded you to keep them.

The seven Noachide commandments are:  

  • The prohibition of idolatry
  • The prohibition of blasphemy
  • The prohibition of murder
  • The prohibition of theft
  • The prohibition of immoral sexual relations
  • The prohibition of eating the limb of a living animal
  • The commandment to establish courts of law enforcing the above commandments

It is a mistake to suppose that since the children of Israel have 613 commandments and the children of Noah have seven commandments, that the ratio of spiritual worth of a gentile to a Jew is proportionally seven to 613.
In reality, the seven Noachide laws are general categories of commandments, each containing many components and details, whereas the 613 commandments of the Torah are precise, each relating to one basic detail of the law of the Torah. Therefore, the numerical disparity in no way reflects the relative spiritual worth of the two systems of commandments.

Because of their profound spiritual connection to the nation of Israel, many righteous gentiles symbolically commemorate some of the Jewish festivals. For example, it is not uncommon for B'nai Noah to in some way celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and Day of Judgment. This festival is of particular interest to the righteous gentile because God judges all of mankind on that day - the Jew as well as the gentile. Rosh Hashanah also is the day Adam, the first man, was created by God, and all mankind is descended from Adam just as we are all descendants from Noah.

The holiday of Shevuoth (the Festival of Weeks) is also of unique interest to the Noachide because the descendants of Noah received their commandments at that time as well. When the evening of Shevuoth arrives, righteous gentiles often spend the entire night contemplating the momentous occasion of the giving of the Torah to the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai. In essence, the affinity that the truly righteous gentile feels for the Jewish people ignites within his soul a fervent desire to cling to the God of Israel and His people.
Bear in mind though, that whatever observances B'nai Noah choose to keep, they must not keep the Shabbat according to Jewish Law, for the observance of the Shabbat was set aside for the Jewish people alone (Exodus 31:16-17).
There are gentiles, however, whose experience with the children of Israel runs much deeper than a feeling of profound affection for the Jew and his Torah. These individuals throughout their lives have often felt a longing and desire to be a part of the Jewish people. In fact, one middle aged woman recently confided in me that she inexplicably knew she was Jewish for as long as she could remember. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Because the vast majority of B'nai Noah were brought up within the Christian religion, their attachment to the nation of Israel has always been more than just a passing interest or fascination.

Since in its most primitive beginnings Christianity began as a heresy of Judaism, "Jews" play a more than incidental role in the church. This role is most often not a flattering one, yet the mere mention of the Jew is enough to ignite a fervid and inquisitive spark within the soul of the destined convert. The discussion about the nation of Israel may have occurred at home, or even taken place in church or Sunday school. Nevertheless, this simple discussion generates an almost unbridled enchantment with the Jewish people. These are the gentiles who experience an irresistible calling to convert to Judaism.
Ironically, there are some gentiles who have this undeniable yearning to somehow connect to the Jewish people and mistakenly get caught up in the Messianic movement. When at first they hear about Christians who worship using Jewish symbols and liturgy, they become very excited. They imagine that this is precisely what they were looking for. They believe that they can finally express their desire to associate with Judaism by attending Messianic congregations. Once they get involved, however, they quickly realize that a Messianic "synagogue" is nothing more than an evangelical church deceptively designed to appear as a synagogue in order to lure those Jews who might otherwise resist the Christian trappings of a church. They finally grasp that the Messianic movement exists in order to generate the very opposite effect that they wish to be a part of. They realize that this modern movement seeks to make Jews into Christians, using nefarious means. In essence, they conclude quite correctly that the Messianic movement is thoroughly Christian, and look elsewhere for authentic expressions of Judaism.

The decision to convert to the Jewish faith is quite different than the commitment to continue as a B'nai Noah. For whereas the Noachide has embraced the faith of the Jewish people alone, the righteous convert, on the other hand, has, in every manner become part of the Jewish people - sharing in full their Torah, as well as their wondrous history and eternal destiny.
The distinction between the righteous convert to Judaism and the Noachide is often difficult for Christians to comprehend. For whereas Christianity and Islam are both religions of creed alone, Judaism comprises both a faith and a distinct peoplehood. For example, if a Christian declares that he does not believe in Jesus, is he still a Christian? Or if a Moslem confesses that he does not trust in the prophet Mohammed, is he still a Moslem? Certainly not. On the other hand, if a Jew declares that he doesn't believe in God, or he has embraced the alien deities of surrounding peoples such as Hare Krishna or Jesus, is he still a Jew? Yes, although a sinner who is called by the prophets to repent. Paradoxically, the word religion appears nowhere throughout the Bible. The Jewish people are referred to as an am, a nation.

There is a Jewish tradition amongst the children of Israel that many of those unique individuals who genuinely convert to Judaism are those gentiles who somehow possess a Jewish soul that tirelessly cries out for truth and clarity.
The request of a gentile to convert to Judaism is never taken lightly by a rabbi. On the contrary, this petition is considered with the utmost concern and apprehension. The rabbi or scholar who is asked to perform a conversion will in almost all situations repeatedly attempt to dissuade the petitioner from going on with his conversion and send the potential convert away. This effort of dissuasion will continue throughout the conversion process. For once a gentile has converted to Judaism, there is no going back. There can be no undoing of this eternal decision. Once the conversion has occurred, the convert is forever a Jew.

Bear in mind that there is no sin for a gentile to eat pork or violate the Sabbath. Once the conversion ceremony is completed, however, the Jew by choice is required to observe all 613 commandments as any other Jew. If a convert backslides and returns to his former heathen ways, the conversion that he has endured has now become his spiritual affliction. In a sense, he would have been far better off had he not converted, for before his conversion these iniquitous acts were not sinful, and now they are. Rabbis are extremely sensitive to this and carefully screen a potential convert.

We see this principle in the Bible as well. When Ruth entreated her mother in law Naomi to return with her to the land of Israel and join the Jewish people, Naomi made three attempts to dissuade her daughter in law. Only after Naomi realized that Ruth was unshakable in her commitment to return did Naomi relent and bring her to her home in Bethlehem (Ruth 1:8-18). Ruth went on to become one of the most extraordinary women in Jewish history, and was the grandmother of King David.

May the Merciful One guide you on your own sacred path.

Sincerely yours,
Rabbi Tovia Singer