This holiday of ours, which started on Thursday, and will last for eight days, is all about values. Historically, it’s about the revolution led by the Jewish priests against the foreign Greek influence in Israel, about two thousand, one hundred and seventy years ago. Usually, the focus is on the re-sanctification of the holy temple. The name of the holiday, tells of the reopening of the temple after it had been defiled. Children enjoy acting out the rebellion of the Jews against the Greek presence in the holy land, and the victory of a dedicated few against superior forces; the few against many, bows and arrows against sophisticated weapons, with the Greek army mounted on elephants.
Back in those days, the Greeks were considered the most powerful and up to date nation in the world. Its influence trickled down to everyone living in the western world of that day. Those who have read stories of the Greek mythology will understand something of their morals. They are heralded to this day for introducing democracy, though their society consisted of a small proportion of free citizens and a vast majority of slaves. Despite great differences in attitudes regarding morality, sexuality, cleanliness, and sanctity, there were many of our people, even here in Israel, who adopted the Greek manner. The Greeks were admired for their knowledge of science and mathematics, philosophy and astronomy, and of course, physical fitness. The Olympic sport competitions of today are a continuation of that tradition.
But in many ways, their view of life, and the way they related to some human beings, and some animals, were repugnant to us. While there were those of us who adopted everything Greek with enthusiasm, others who couldn’t stand their influence. After a period during which the Greek life style and wisdom became more and more prevalent in Israel, a family of Jewish priests led a rebellion against the Greek influence and military presence in our country. They won the battle. The ancient holy temple was cleaned, and once again sanctified. And we returned to our ancient customs and rules; and to our traditional values.
So, in honor of the holiday, I would like to share with you a a few thoughts on values. Like many here in Israel, I consider myself a student of, our great philosopher, Maimonides, who was born in Spain in the middle ages. He was a great torah scholar and physician. He taught us that in order to right a wrong, we have to go to the opposite extreme of that wrong, until we are able to return to moderation, to the middle path… the golden path we call it.
And even though I admit that I myself have a tendency towards extremism, I recognize that the best and most proper way to live one’s life is to embrace moderation. We accept the differences between human beings. There are strong and week; those with great aspirations, and those who’re willing to go along with the crowd. There are the rich and the poor. But in every field, it’s not in the interest of either society or the individual to go to extremes. The rich should not have too many houses or too many cars. And the poor should not be starving. It is our responsibility, as a society to care for the poor, and especially to care for the sick and the disabled, for the orphan and the widow. We believe in a concept called spiritual cleanliness, and this was an important part of our work in the holy temple. The separation of areas of human activity into categories is also a part of what we understand as sanctity.
There are those who claim that all that happens in this world is for the good. That every cloud has its silver lining, and that even when something terrible happens, we should still look for the good that is included with the bad. Personally, I believe that it is best at times to weep over the bad and to ache in sorrow, and not to smile whatever happens ,but to fully experience sadness as well. That, in my opinion, is the essential experience and knowledge of this life, including both the ups and the downs.
Our forefathers said, turn your home into a study hall for the wise, and learn from everyone. For everyone has something to teach us. And the Rebbe of Breslev said, life is a narrow bridge, and in crossing it, it’s most important not to fear. And his followers said, the most important good deed is to be happy. I do try to be happy with my lot, and not to fear. I am not always successful. But when I’m unable to smile, I don’t pretend. I would like to be the Buddha, with a constant smile on my face, but I’m not made of stone. Just flesh and blood, knowing both failure and success.
In honor of the holiday, I’m visiting Jerusalem, even though I feel somewhat homeless in my beloved city these days. Coming up the mountain to Jerusalem is one of my oldest memories… always different, but including, every time, a very special delight… the joy of knowing that I am home again. There were times when I would be pulling a load up the mountain, one eye on the thermometer all the time, watching the engine heat up as we continued to rise, switching from second to third and then back to second again, on a four gear little car. Sometimes dead tired, with the window open so that the cold air would keep me wide awake… fearing for the brakes on the down slopes. Today it’s easy. We have a modern highway leading to the city, and I drive a car with an automatic transmission. But the delight of approaching the holy city hasn’t changed at all.
And from Jerusalem, I will continue on today, to spend the Chanukah Sabbath in the village of the holy fire, where I will celebrate this happy and holy day with children and grandchildren. And we will thank god together for the miracles that happened long ago, and the miracles that are still happening today. And you know, my friends, that I really don’t care much for miracles. We’re always half way into hell when we start thinking about a miracle. I just want to be cruising down the road, not too fast, on my way to the holy fire, with a flower over my ear, and a smile on my lips… listening to the songs of Reb Shlomo. Whether this is your holiday or not, my best wishes to all my friends, may we be truly happy.