by Rena Goldzweig
The Greeks didn't set out to annihilate the Jews at first. Instead,
they sought to enlighten the "backward" Jews with the "modern"
Greek culture of arts and sciences, hoping that they would assimilate
as their other captive nations did. In contrast to other tormentors of
the Jews, they admired the Torah and its wisdom. King Ptolemy even had
the Jewish scholars translate the Torah into Greek so that he may study
it more easily.
However, Jews note the day the Torah was translated as a day of mourning
since the Greeks felt that the Torah is to be studied, but not practiced
(as do many Jews nowadays). They outlawed the practice of the laws of
the Sabbath, the Brit Milah, and the blessing of the New Moon (and thus,
all the festivals).
The Torah isn't just another book of wisdom - it is G-d's blueprint for
the world and all that exists. The Greeks' treatment of G-dly wisdom as
mundane strengthened the "husk" of Greek power and enabled them
(at least at first) be victorious over the Jews.
When the Jews strengthened their Torah practice as well as study, under
Judah the Maccabi's leadership, they vanquished the Greek forces, although
greatly outnumbered and lacking experience.
Jewish holidays are generally celebrated with a festive meal including
bread and wine, as they mark a day of physical salvation. Passover marks
our salvation from bondage in Egypt; Purim marks our salvation from Haman's
The mundane act of eating matza made of flour & water in honor of
Passover in fact spiritually elevates the flour and water to their G-dly
source. Bread & water, the main staples of one's diet, signify the
revealed Torah (the 24 books of the Written Torah and the laws) which
one cannot live a Torah life without.
Wine, obligatory for Kiddush, also provides enjoyment and should be imbibed
regularly in small amounts to accompany the main meal of the day, just
like the Kabbalistic teachings which should be learned in addition to
the revealed Torah.
Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday without any obligatory festive meal.
We celebrate in a completely spiritual manner by lighting candles (preferably
with olive oil) and saying additional special prayers, (i.e. Al Ha-nissim
It is said that olive oil be eaten only in tiny amounts as a seasoning
for the main course, as the innermost mystical secrets of Torat that reveal
the G-dliness concealed within the Revealed Torah.
However, as we move further away in time from the revelation of the Torah
on Mt Sinai, the darkness of secular knowledge constantly increases in
the world. Therefore, additional parts of the Torah are correspondingly
revealed to give us more strength to combat the darkness and this "oil"
an even more necessary component of our diet.
When the 2nd temple was destroyed, the disputes of the Gemara were formulated
and written down, contrary to the ordinance that the Oral Torah only be
learned by heart and not written down. This was on the one hand, a result
of the greater darkness in the world due to the Temple's destruction and
on the other hand, a new wealth of Torah light with which to combat this
The Zohar was originally taught by R. Shimon Bar Yochai only to those
already well versed in the Revealed torah. At the time of the Renaissance,
the Holy Ari caused Torah secrets to become even more wide-spread. During
the "Enlightenment" movement, there was an outpouring of Chassidic
knowledge, and in fact, the Ba'al Shem Tov declared it necessary to spread
the wellsprings of Kabbala ever further, until in recent years, we have
merited the dissemination of the innermost secrets of the Torah on the
Rena Goldzweig, a long-time resident of Tsfat, is the technical editor