R Aharon Ziegler / The wonderful Chag of Chanukah is over but the message of Chanukah lingers on, and the holiday of Purim is less than three months away. On Purim, we thank HaShem for the salvation of our people in Persia {Iran} where the entire Jewish community was threatened with physical annihilation. Our enemies sought “Lehashmid  Uleharog  et  Kol  HaYehudim,” to kill every Jewish male, female and child without exception, but G-d, in His imminent compassion and love for us saved us from our enemies. On Chanukah, there was no threat to our physical lives but rather a threat to our spiritual and religious lives. Our enemies wanted “Lehashkicham Toratecha  Uleha’aviaram  Meichukei  Retzonecha,” devoid us of our Torah and religious observances.

Filling the Void

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Guest post by Rabbi Aharon Ziegler (bio)

The wonderful Chag of Chanukah is over but the message of Chanukah lingers on, and the holiday of Purim is less than three months away.

On Purim, we thank HaShem for the salvation of our people in Persia {Iran} where the entire Jewish community was threatened with physical annihilation. Our enemies sought “Lehashmid Uleharog et Kol HaYehudim,” to kill every Jewish male, female and child without exception, but G-d, in His imminent compassion and love for us saved us from our enemies. On Chanukah, there was no threat to our physical lives but rather a threat to our spiritual and religious lives. Our enemies wanted “Lehashkicham Toratecha Uleha’aviaram Meichukei Retzonecha,” devoid us of our Torah and religious observances.

Every war, every battle brings bloodshed — on both sides. When one’s physical life is threatened then one is permitted kill the pursuer, “Haba LeHargecha, Hashkem veHorgo,” so Jews in Persia had every right to take up arms for self-defense. However, the Greeks and Hellenists did not threaten our very lives, so the question was raging amongst our Sages — whether or not an armed rebellion is halachically permitted.

The Gemara Shabbat (22a), right in middle of discussing Chanukah, cites a verse from Parshat Vayeishev (Bereishit 37:24) which has nothing to do with Chanukah and interprets it homiletically. The Torah states, “They [the brothers] threw him [Yosef] into the pit; the pit was empty, no water was in it.” The Gemara asks, “If the pit was empty isn’t it obvious that no water was in it”? And the Gemara answers, “The redundancy implies that there was no water in it — but there were serpents and scorpions in it.”

Rav Soloveitchik asked, “What does this drasha have to do with Chanukah, why insert this drasha right here?” The Rav gave a wonderful and insightful answer. The Gemara did not want to openly discuss the debate of our Sages whether the war against the Greeks should be fought. So the Gemara hints to us a message that life does not tolerate a void or a vacuum. If there in no Torah influence then invariably a negative influence will step in to fill that void. There is no such thing as removing oneself from Torah and remaining neutral. If there is no Torah then there will be Greek influence and philosophy, Avodah Zarah philosophy, Communism, Socialism, Secularism or any other anti-Torah “ism”. That’s what the Gemara means. If there is no “water” in the pit, and water is the symbol of Torah (Ein Mayim Elah Torah) — then it is a given that serpents and scorpions will find their way into the pit.

So the answer was, yes! We must rebel and fight, even at the cost of human lives, because without Torah, Judaism will be spiritually annihilated and that is tantamount to physical destruction. Just as G-d saved our physical lives from the Hamans on Purim, so did He save us spiritually from the Greeks and Hellenists on Chanukah. May we merit to continue to see the miracles of those days — again in our days.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

12 comments

  1. While it is doubtless true that something will always fill a vacuum, and that abandoning the influence of Torah will result in some other ideology governing one’s life, the idea that all other isms are negative is not true. It is sad to see the reflexive acceptance of this chareidi mindset.

  2. What does “imminent compassion” mean?

  3. I gave a lot of thought to the phrase “imminent compassion” while doing a quick, light edit. I see it as meaning “a compassion that is quick to come.”

  4. “Avodah Zarah philosophy, Communism, Socialism, Secularism or any other anti-Torah ”

    Is that a direct quote? I’m trying to figure out what is Anti-Torah about Socialism.

    http://judaism.about.com/library/3_askrabbi_o/bl_simmons_socialism.htm

  5. “the idea that all other isms are negative is not true. ”

    Where exactly was that point made in the post? You seem to be putting words in someone’s mouth.

  6. Jews in Persia had every right to take up arms for self-defense. However, the Greeks and Hellenists did not threaten our very lives, so the question was raging amongst our Sages — whether or not an armed rebellion is halachically permitted.

    Bar-Kochba for 10, please…

  7. IH: Didn’t the Chakhamim disagree with Bar Kochba’s rebellion?

  8. Gil — That there was a machloket was my point. I am contunually surprised that this salient context of the contemporaneous issue for the 3rd generation of Tanai’im is so often excluded from the discussion about the differing treatment of Purim and Chanukah (as did R. Ziegler in the above).

  9. Wasn’t Bar Kochba two centuries after the Chanukah rebellion?

  10. Wasn’t the Mishna redacted less than a century after the Bar Kochba rebellion?

  11. Three centuries.

  12. Ye’yasher kochakha, R. Ziegler.
    I fondly recall attending R. Ziegler’s shiur at the Saxony Hotel in Miami Beach (during the years that it served with distinction as a kosher hotel). It was a sparkling Kiddush Ha-Shem to see Miami Beach serve as a venue of Torah study, especially appropriate since Florida is NASA’s gateway to outer space, and the gemara in Eruvin 21a calculates that the Oral Torah is 3200 times the magnitude of the cosmos. By the way, R. Ziegler is also a tennis player, as I was privileged to witness first hand while there (on weekdays). Evidently, he was applying the principles he learned from “Perek ha-Zorek” in both Tractates Shabbat and Gittin, which deal with the laws of launching projectiles.

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