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Don't Be a Know-It-All

December 12, 2020

What bothered the Greeks so much about Judaism?  Why were they so adamant in destroying the Jewish religion and Hellenizing the Jewish people?  The answer can be found in the special prayer of על הנסים (al hanissim), but with a bit of background first.

In Parshat Toldot, Hashem praises Avraham for observing the mitzvot.  “עֵקֶב אֲשֶׁר שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקֹלִי וַיִּשְׁמֹר מִשְׁמַרְתִּי מִצְו‍ֹתַי חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי, because Avraham listened to My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My instructions. (Bereishit 26:15)”  What is the difference between “מִצְו‍ֹתַי” and “חֻקּוֹתַי”?  What is a commandment, and what is a statute?

Rashi explains that a חק, a statute, refers to a very specific type of mitzvah.  It’s a mitzvah that has very little or even no understanding to the human mind.  There is no logic, and seemingly no reason.  Our minds can understand very well why there is a prohibition of theft or false testimony.  In fact, man-made legal systems generally ban those as well.  But why can’t we eat meat and milk together?  Why is it a problem to wear a jacket that has both wool and linen?  These examples and others may be חקים, statutes that we must keep only because we have an unwavering trust in Hashem and His Torah, and even when we don’t understand why, we still follow the rules.

The Greeks were known as a particularly brilliant people.  Their contributions to Science, Philosophy, and culture in general remain impactful until today.  Let’s give credit where it is due.  However, the human mind can be a dangerous thing, for when a wise person or people grant it too much honor, it can preclude them for recognizing its limitations.  Judaism firmly believes that as miraculous and incredible as the human mind is, there is a far greater wisdom that exists, and G-dly logic that we simply cannot fathom.  The Greeks strongly disagreed.

Inעל הנסים, we mention that the Greeks had two very specific goals in mind: “לְהַשְׁכִּיחָם תּוֹרָתֶיךָ וּלְהַעַבִירָם מֵחֻקֵי רְצוֹנֶיךָ, to cause them to forget Your Torah, and to compel them to stray from the statutes of Your will.”  מֵחֻקֵי רְצוֹנֶיךָ, from Your statutes!  That’s what the Greeks were so upset about.  They didn’t mind when we observed the logical mitzvot.  But when they saw that sometimes we would do things that don’t make sense to the human mind, but we still do them because of our faith?!  That they could not bear to witness! 

Our celebration of Chanukah should emphasize a rededication to mitzvot, and especially those that we don’t understand.  Just like a parent sometimes has to tell a child, “I know you don’t understand this rule, but trust me, it’s good for you,” we too believe that even that which we don’t understand, “trust Hashem, it’s good for us!”

Shabbat Shalom!  Chanukah Sameach!

Rabbi Fox

Mon, January 25 2021 12 Shevat 5781