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By Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari | Series: | Level:

The Avnei Nezer taught in numerous places that the two types of Yetzer Harah referred to by chazal reflect the errors of physical appetites in one case and those of the mind and the intellect in the other. There is a yetzer harah that assumes the personality of a gross peasant who comes to dissuade or prevent us from keeping Torah and Mitzvot. There is, however, the Yetzer that appears as a scholar and his mission is to explain and teach that our desecration and sin are actually the way of keeping Torah. Greece is the symbol of the Yetzer Harah in the form of the scholar who wishes to use the mind and the intellect to pervert and destroy Torah.

The Greeks did not destroy the Temple nor did they do away with the Temple service. What they did do was to make the pure oil become tamei-impure and in this way they wished to make Israel forget the Torah and to wean them away from the Chukim of His Will. They maintained that they could only accept those ideas and concepts that could be witnessed, described, measured and understood by human intelligence; there could be no validity or reality for anything that lies beyond such intelligence and wisdom. Since oil is the symbol of wisdom and intelligence, they sought through the contamination of the oil of the Temple, to pervert the Jewish wisdom of Revelation by preventing Torah study and by forbidding the hukim [Shabbat, Milah,Kashrut,etc.], the full understanding of which cannot always be based solely on human reason and intelligence.

We need to understand what was the sin of Israel that enabled the Greeks to successfully attack the Jews, in that generation. They were after all, absorbed in Torah study and merited many miracles in the time of Simon Hatzadick . Both the Jews and the Greeks knew that impurity when it is related to a tzibbur, a whole society, is rejected, nevertheless they sought to make the oil tamei and thereby harm us spiritually.

‘Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said that purification-taharah removes bad taste and bad smells (Sotah, 49a). Since they kept themselves pure and ate in purity, Hakadosh Baruch Hu purified the taste and smell of their fruit (Rashi). We know that everything that exists in the material world is paralleled in the spiritual world. Smell and taste refer to Torah and mitzvot. Taste and smell are the spiritual core and the living essence of everything and Torah and mitzvot are similarly the living essence of everything. ‘He looked in the Torah and created the world and with its power He renews the world every day’. It is like a pacifier that the baby sucks upon until it finds pleasure and peace from it. The 248 positive mitzvot bring life and energy to the 248 parts of the human body. Unfortunately, in that generation Israel’s worship was devoid of ecstasy and spiritual excitement so that their Torah and mitzvot were carried out mechanically in legalistic form, simply out of habit and without any spirituality; habitual acts of educated people. They had lost the taste and the smell of Divine worship. In this way they damaged their Torah and mitzvoth, thereby giving the Greeks the opportunity and ability to sway them away from the divine commandments. However, in the zeal and devotion demonstrated by their willingness to sacrifice their lives and to do battle against the Greeks, they restored the ecstasy and the spirituality of their worship and thereby were able to defeat the Greeks. When the Macabees refused to use the impure oil, they showed that they would not reduce their worship again to a technical and mechanical performance but rather would devote emotional power, zeal and ecstasy to their Torah and mitzvot. For that reason they ordained the lighting of the candles of Hanukkah; light being the symbol of spirituality and life essence. In contrast there is no mitzvah of a festive meal on Hanukkah because this does not reflect spirituality and essence.

They appointed the lighting of the candles for 8 days together with the second mitzvah of thanksgiving and praise [Hallel] on Hanukkah. The Avnei Nezer taught that these two mitzvot correspond to sight and to speech respectively: to these insights that lie in the mind and to the power of speech that lies in the mouth. We find these two powers with regard to the sons of Noah, where we read:’ And Ham saw and related it to His brothers'( Bereishit, 9 :22). Yaphet, the ancestor of Greece, when he joined his brother Shem to cover their father’s shame, merited both of these attributes and therefore was able to rule in the world, unlike his brother Ham who was destined to be a servant for eternity. This view by the Shem Mi Shmuel indicates that he was quite aware of the ability and potential to contribute to the world’s civilization through science, art and philosophy, and thereby to ennoble it. However, if their ability to see and to hear was indeed to be a blessing, they needed to be subjected to the wisdom of Shem granted through Divine Revelation; beyond human intelligence and knowledge]. It is well-known that speech is the pen of the heart and therefore Yaphet-Greece had, in addition to sight which is the gift of the mind, also that of the heart. However, the gift of the mind they devoted to godlessness, atheism and intellectual arrogance through their philosophical culture, so that they tried to force us to proclaim that Israel does not have a share in the G-d of Israel.

The power of speech that flows from the heart they perverted through physical lust and desire, until they claimed each of the Jewish brides.[Their ability to force Israel into sexual immorality, the Shem Mi Shmuel attributes elsewhere to the non -Jewish women they married in the days of Ezrah].Which is the opposite of, ‘ you shall not go astray after your heart and your eyes which is idolatry and sexuality ‘ . Thereby the Greeks lost the stature that they had acquired through Yaphet. Therefore, when the Maccabees overcame the Greeks, the Jews merited the two mitzvot-the candles of Hanukkah and the songs of praise- Hallel. Israel achieved through their struggle sanctified sight and power of holy speech, brain and heart to rise to spiritual greatness rule. Therefore they merited the miracle of the lights of the Menorah that reflect the mind and the songs of Hallel that is in the heart. They together have given us the ability and the power throughout the generations to preserve the purity of sight and speech, of mind and heart.

Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Project Genesis, Inc.

Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics ( in Jerusalem.