Ariella Atzmon – The Miracle of Chanukah and how to bring the Global Energy Crisis to an end

What is Chanukah?
When the royal Hasmonean family overpowered and was victorious over the Greeks, they searched and found only a single cruse of pure oil… enough to light the menorah for a single day.
A miracle occurred, and they lit the menorah with this oil for eight days.
(Based on the teaching of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)

An alternative prayer
O mighty stronghold of my salvation
to praise You is a delight
Here I am to beseech
Reveal your almighty immense power
Perform the Chanukah oil miracle
Once again
For the sake of all humanity
and bring the global energy crisis
to an end

December: long, dark, chilly nights are cheerfully brightened by the many flashes of lights that shine through the curtained windows. Walking the streets of London at this time of the year, we come across glowing Christmas trees beside the flickering Chanukah candle lights. What do these lights stand for? How do these two kinds of lights affect our emotions? Which associations, reflections, and thoughts are triggered by these lights?

To get closer to an answer we just have to add a soundtrack to the sight of these lights. While listening to Christmas carols, we are enveloped by a pastoral atmosphere and the sweetness of spiritual tranquility meaning ‘Love’, ‘Care’ and ‘Beauty’. However, when listening to Chanukah songs, suddenly we are captured by shrill cries of triumphalism. It is the vociferous praise to God for creating miracles to rescue his ‘treasured ones’ from ‘wicked nations’. We can trace the violent terminology in hymnal phrases: eg. ‘slaughter’, ‘obliterating the names of those who blaspheme the Israelites’, and calls for God to ‘avenge’ ….

Hence, Chanukah is about God’s miracle (the cruse of pure oil), and the triumph of Judaism over Hellenism. The celebration of Chanukah is a tale of war and the victory of the sons of light over the forces of darkness[1].

The Chanukah rite starts with the kindling of lights and blessing the Menorah (Chanukah lamp) with words of praise:

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, king of the universe,
Who performed miracles for our forefathers, in those days,
At this time”

Just after kindling the lights it is customary to sing two hymns. The first repeats the above prayer to ‘commemorate God’s saving acts, miracles and wonders’, and the second hymn is Maoz Tzur (see below), which each Jew, secular or orthodox, atheist or a believer, knows by heart. Yet most of them never pay attention to the message carried by these Aramaic (ancient Hebrew) words. The essence of Chanukah as the representation of Jewish history is contained in these few lines:

And there we will bring a thanksgiving offering
When You will have prepared the slaughter
For the blaspheming foe
Then I shall complete with a song of hymn
The dedication of the Altar

Since Chanukah is mainly about God’s miracles, it might be worthwhile to reflect upon the nuances which the term ‘miracle’ includes, and what they imply about the breach between Hellenism and Hebraism.[2]

The Greek mind was engaged in intellectual apprehension of the harmony of the cosmos, and in the laws and order of nature, where every separate entity is a part of a whole. The Greeks saw the divine power as manifested in the cosmic law whose existence should and could be grasped by reason. In the Hellenic tradition, the gods did not create the cosmos. On the contrary, they just represented the highest order produced by the cosmos. Crucially the Gods cannot violate natural Law: they themselves are bound to observe and to supervise the Law, and to act in harmony with the cosmos.

If Hellenism stands for philosophical thought, science and art, Judaism presents us with unquestioned righteousness and unconditional observance.

In Jewish thought, the world belongs to God; and He upholds it by His power. God sustains human life and man owes him obedience. In the Hebrew monotheist religion, the transcendent, almighty jealous God never tolerated other gods than Himself. And so Hellenistic polytheism confronted the Jews with their worst enemy.

According to the Old Testament, the world should be viewed as being beyond man’s control. Even history is not the study of the past as a means of discovering laws that govern past events. According to Bultmann[3] regarding the conflict between Hellenism and Hebraism, in the Hebraic tradition, history is narrated to serve as an account for God’s favor and punishment. Thus, in the Old Testament politics is not the center of interest, it is rather God’s purpose and His inscribed moral demands that are.

Since the Jewish God is a tribal God who creates miracles for his people, Judaism views the world as a sphere where God rules by history, and the best of God can be revealed in the history of His people. Genesis should be seen as the first chapter of history and this historical saga develops through Noah, his three sons, up to the Israelites’ development as a nation.

History for the Israelites was, and still is, the revelation of God’s will in controlling the world on their behalf. Natural disasters for the sake of God’s care for His chosen people never evoked ethical questioning in the course of Jewish thought. According to Jewish tradition, Individual human beings do not think of themselves as particular instances of the universal. They were never encouraged to think of themselves in the wider context of the harmonious unity of the whole cosmos. There is no possibility of wrestling with problems of suffering and misery, personal or national; all these questions should come under God’s omnipotence and His unfathomable wisdom.

According to the Old Testament, man who was created in the image of God, should not be interpreted in the light of the world, but the world should be interpreted in the light of man. Since the world is created for man’s sake, he should not attempt to assimilate and harmonize himself into it. Despite this anthropocentric Jewish attitude, God’s rule is ‘observantly’ established. Being completely subservient to God’s everlasting dominance makes people cautious about their conduct themselves towards God’s authority. This awareness is rewarded “Keep in mind that the reward of the righteous for preserving the Torah is reserved for the hereafter” We can find parallels to this style of ‘bookkeeping accountancy’ in all other offshoots of Jewish monotheism.

Hebrew monotheism did not originate in theoretical reflection. According to the story of Genesis, God created the world out of ‘chaos’. In the beginning was the word, and, by speaking, God differentiated between light and darkness. The same almighty God who created the universe can also destroy it, and perform miracles. God’s revelation of Himself is not seen in the natural course of ‘natural’ history, but in unusual and terrifying occurrences, such as floods, storms, earthquakes, stopping the sun from moving, and drowning Pharaoh’s troops in the Nile. Any attempt to reason with God is doomed to failure. Human beings are totally dependent on God’s will. It is observance and faith, and not ethics, resulting in limitless gratitude to God that may be awarded.

The same line of reasoning is revealed also in the Jewish understanding of the word ‘miracle’. God’s miracles are meant to shake the universe, to upset the Laws of nature, and to undermine the harmony of the cosmos.

‘Miracle’ might be defined as ‘an event which can not be attributed to human or natural agency, but to supernatural agency’. A miracle should be seen as an act which demonstrates control over nature, and which aims to serve as evidence for omnipotent divine intervention. God creates miracles to save the Israelites from His and their polytheist enemies. In fact, almost all Jewish festivities are historical reminders of miracles and victories involving God’s aid.

Here we come back to the festivity of Chanukah, which epitomizes the breach between Judaic monotheism vs. polytheist Hellenism in the understanding of God’s role in history. The main theme of Chanukah is the miracle that happened after the Hasmonean victory over the Greeks. Hence, after the liberation of Israel from Hellenic dominance, and the reclaiming of the holy temple as the lighthouse of God, they searched and found only a single cruse of pure oil which was enough to light the Menorah for a single day. And then by breaking and violating the most basic law of nature regarding the conservation of energy, a miracle occurred; they lit the Menorah with this oil which lasted for eight days (what a miraculous solution this could be for solving our present-day global energy crisis….)

The most famous liturgical poem (Piyyut) of Chanukah, the Maoz Tzur, recalls events of divine intervention in chronological order.

It starts with the ‘Passover’ miracle where

“Pharaoh’s army and all his offspring
Went down like a stone into the deep”

It goes on with Purim where God

“To sever the towering cypress
Sought the Aggagite, son of Hammedatha
But it became a stumbling block to him
And his arrogance was stilled
The head of the Benjaminite You lifted
And the enemy, his name you obliterated
His numerous progeny –his possessions-
On the gallows You hanged”

And ends with the miracle of cruse oil,

Greeks gathered against me
then in Hasmonean days.
They Breached the walls of my towers
and they defiled all the oils;
And from the one remnant of the flasks
A miracle was wrought for the roses
Men of insight – eight days
Established for song and Jubilation

Chanukah is established as eight days of festivity praise and thanksgiving to God. Hellenism, which was viewed by the Jews as a “noxious blend of hedonism and philosophy” was overcome by the Maccabees who were empowered by God’s spirit. In other words, Chanukah is giving thanks to God for rekindling the torch of Israel as a light unto the nations.

We can see that the idea of the miracle in Judaism is an essential part of the Judaic tradition regarding the special role of the ‘chosen people’ as the ‘holy nation’. With the loyalty to God that illuminates the way for the “supra-rational” “supra-egotistical essence of the Jewish soul, they confronted the whole Hellenistic tradition of rational thinking.

Jewish history is not interwoven with stories of political narration and achievement; it is rather the product of a covenant of mutual obligations. It is marked by disasters and by gifts which are the sign of God’s will. The faith in their magic power supplies the Jewish people with a belief in a kind of supra-natural power. An interesting and very compelling point is that even those who rashly define themselves as ‘Jewish atheists’ or ‘secular Jews’, by the substitution of Judaic observance with Jewish rites (such as chanting Chanukah hymns) they safeguard the eternity of the Jewish race.[4] In the off chance that God will show-up by performing one more miracle for his people, it is always worthwhile to stay around!

Since time immemorial, Jews have had confidence in a divine agency that will overturn the order of nature (SEDER OLAM) resulting in their being rescued from the wicked nations. This trust in the tribal/national God is common both to believers and to secular Jews. Otherwise why do secular and atheist Jews keep insisting on proclaiming their Jewishness?

This trust in the mystic, eternal, mutual covenant between God and his people results in a pattern of arrogance, so to speak, that helps to maintain the stereotype attached to Jewish people. The fact that ‘miracles and wonders’ and ‘saving acts, are likely to be manifested in concrete terms, if not by God, then by his holy people should be seen as a major threat to the whole world. It is the old warning of the ‘writing on the wall’ that might make a comeback from Babylon (Iraq) and on to Persia (Iran).

Maoz Tzur (A Chanukah Hymn-written in the 13th century)

O mighty stronghold of my salvation,
To praise You is a delight
Restore my house of Prayer
And there we will bring a thanksgiving offering
When You will have prepared the slaughter
For the blaspheming foe
Then I shall complete with a song of hymn
the dedication of the Altar

my soul had been sated with troubles,
my strength has been consumed with grief.
They had embittered my life with hardship,
With the calf-like kingdom’s bondage
But with his great power
He brought forth the treasures ones
Pharaoh’s army and all his offspring
Went down like a stone into the deep

To sever the towering cypress
Sought the Aggagite, son of Hammedatha
But it became a stumbling block to him
And his arrogance was stilled
The head of the Benjaminite You lifted
And the enemy, his name you obliterated
His numerous progeny – his possessions
On the gallows You hanged

Greeks gathered against me
then in Hasmonean days.
They Breached the walls of my towers
and they defiled all the oils;
And from the one remnant of the flasks
A miracle was wrought for the roses
Men of insight – eight days
Established for song and Jubilation

Bare Your holy arm
And hasten the End for salvation –
Avenge the vengeance of your servant’s blood
From the wicked nation.
For the triumph is too long delayed for us,
And there is no end to days of evil,
Repel the Red One in the nethermost shadow

And establish for us the seven shepherds

[1] In this case the Hasmonean family against Edom, Asshur, Mohave, the whole pagan world including the Greeks as the sons of darkness.
2
http://peacepalestine.blogspot.com/2007/08/ariella-atzmon-athens-or-jerusalem.html
[3] (1956) Bultmann Rudolf., Primitive Christianity, The Fontana Library, pp. 40-51
[4] http://peacepalestine.blogspot.com/2007/11/gilad-atzmon-politics-of-anti-semitism.html

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s