Among the many valuable messages to be learned from Chanuka, there is a very personal question that each of us needs to ask. If we were living in the times of Chanuka, when Greek culture was dominant, when the political fortunes of the Jews were declining, when only a relative handful of Jews remained loyal to the ideals and practice of Torah – whose side would we be on?
This question is very relevant – because our times are not so different from those times when Torah loyalists were few, assimilation was rampant and the external affairs of the Jewish people were frightening. Add governmental coercion against the open and free practice of our Yiddishkeit, and our resolve may not be as strong as we would like to think.
To take the question further, let’s take a look at the contemporary situation. The overwhelming majority of the Jewish People are clearly in the camp of the assimilationists. The remainder of our people include many, possibly including ourselves, who may be called assimilationist sympathizers – embracing many aspects of the hedonistic society around us, comfortable with imbibing many values of western society and pursuing goals of acquiring material wealth and creature comforts along with the best of them. We may be so comfortable with the status quo that we find little wrong with the current situation.
Let’s suppose one of our great Rabbis publicly declares war against this enemy of Torah – the Jewish people is being decimated by the pursuit of pleasure that characterizes our surrounding society, and the call goes out to escape to the mountains – leave our `regular’ lives behind and join an emergency campaign to `defeat’ the values and culture embodied in the New York Times, Hollywood, Madison Avenue and Facebook.
Perhaps this sounds preposterous – but it’s not that different from the circumstances that existed when Mattisyahu Kohein Gadol first cried out to his brethren “Mi L’Hashem Aylai.” “Whoever is for G-d, follow me.” The secular press would have had a field day excoriating Mattisyahu and his followers. Are we strong enough in our personal faith and commitment to give up all our material and social accomplishments for Hashem’s honor? Would we have stepped forward and followed Mattisyahu? Our personal answer is not as important as the need to think about the question, to self-examine and take stock of our spiritual inventory.
Whether we are satisfied with our own response to this question or not, what about our children? What could possibly give them the fortitude and strength to follow Mattisyahu into the caves? Have we helped them develop Emuna, simple faith in the oneness of Hashem – that everything that happens in this world comes from Him? Do they have sufficient passion and excitement for their Yiddishkeit, that it’s worth sacrificing for, and that it is as dear as life itself?Is their Jewish pride strong enough to engender a visceral antipathy towards movements and ideas that debase the values of our Torah?
These are not simple questions and there are certainly no pat answers. What these questions can do is to get us to think, on this Chanuka and throughout the year about our core values and beliefs. Are Torah values at the core of our being, or are they susceptible to being peeled off or shed when circumstances make living by those values a big challenge. If that thought scares us – what will we do to fortify ourselves and our families? What extras will we take on to enhance our spiritual side, and what restrictions will we place on our material side to lessen the corrosive influence of contemporary society?
These are essential life questions, and while the small flickering flames of the Chanuka Menorah burn is a good time to begin the process of introspection that can change our lives, our children’s and all generations to come – and may we be eager and ready to answer the call of Moshiach on the day he arrives – may it come speedily and in our days.
Best wishes for a wonderful Shabbos and an inspiring and illuminating Chanuka,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann