Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why Did the Jews Suffer Under the Greeks?

As Jews, we know that God runs the world, and any suffering which befalls the Jewish people is the result of a failing on our part. Any genuine Torah effort to study history requires that we attempt to get an understanding of the error that led to suffering for the Jewish people. In the case of the Greek shmad, the primary Torah source to explain the suffering is the commentary of the Bach[1] on Tur, Orech Chaim 670:
... בחנוכה עיקר הגזירה היתה על שהתרשלו בעבודה וע"כ היתה הגזירה לבטל מהם העבודה כדתניא בברייתא שגזר עליהן לבטל התמיד ועוד א"ל מצוה אחת יש בידן אם אתם מבטלין אותן מידם כבר הם אבודין ואיזה זה הדלקת מנורה שכתב בה להעלות נר תמיד כל זמן שמדליקין אותן תמיד הם עומדין כו' עמדו וטמאו כל השמנים וכשחזרו בתשובה למסור נפשם על העבודה הושיעם ה' על ידי כהנים עובדי העבודה בבית ה' ע"כ נעשה הנס גם כן בנרות תחת אשר הערו נפשם למות על קיום העבודה...
By Chanukah the decree was primarily because they became lax in serving [HaShem]. Therefore the decree was to take away from them the [Temple] service as it is taught in a beraisa that it was decreed on them to end the korban tamid and further, “He [a heretical Jew] said to them [the Greeks], ‘There is one mitzvah they [the Jews] possess that if you stop them from fulfilling they will immediately be lost, and this is the lighting of the menorah, regarding which it says [in the Torah] ‘to light the lamp continually.’ As long as they light it continually they will persist.’ They rose up and defiled all the oils.” When they repented and were willing to give up their lives for the avodah, then HaShem saved them through the kohanim who perform the avodah of God’s Temple. Therefore a miracle also happened with the candles, because they risked their lives to uphold the avodah.
The Bach teaches us that the reason for the Greek shmad was primarily due to their negligent attitude towards the avodah. The period of time under Greek rule was one in which many Jews were influenced by Greek attitudes of science and materialism. This caused many Jews to devalue the importance of Torah and mitzvos, especially avodah – serving HaShem. The decrees of the Greeks took away from the Jews those things that they themselves had already begun to neglect. When the Jews repented and were moser nefesh – self-sacrificing – for the sake of the avodah, then God gave it back to them. It is important to recognize that the military struggle was only window dressing on the basic spiritual struggle, which is the true story of Chanukah.

[1] Bayis Chadash. Rav Yoel Sirkes (1561-1640)

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