Shabbat Chanukah I - 5760
"In Bereshit (9:26), the Torah says "The L-rd has given Yephet beauty; let him reside in the Tents of Shem." In Yephet, come together reason and the desire for the Spiritual,...Yephet reaches his peak in the Culture of Yavan, Greece, and till today these two remain, Yisrael and Yavan, representing "Moriah" and humanism. Yephet beautified the world from an aesthetic point of view, while Shem enlightened he world from an ethical-moral perspective.... Yephet prepares the ground for the mission of Shem. First let a person be imbued with the ideas of the beautiful and the good in the Spirit of the Greeks; afterwards, let him proceed to be imbued with that which is still more beautiful and elevated and harmonious - the G-dly."
"...There was a conflict between two perspectives of life, two Cultures, which until today are struggling for dominance in the world ...The Greek nation stood at the pinnacle of Culture of all the descendants of Yephet; the Greeks taught to all the other nations the beautiful, and explained that that which is beautiful is also good. However, at the pinnacle of the Culture of the Children of Shem stood Ever, whose descendants became the Hebrew Nation, which plants its tents according to the Will of Hashem, in order to sanctify His Name; they build the Temple of Justice and Love; the mission of both Cultures is to cover the animalistic nakedness in Man; both were destined to raise Man to the level of the human and the G-dly, and to subdue by proper education the influence of "Cham," the hot-blooded roughneck who desires the animalistic nakedness...all of the history of the world till our day represents the constant struggle regarding the above prophecy ("The L-rd has given beauty...")."
"Until the appearance of the Greeks, the human Spirit and human feelings developed only under the influence of Necessity and the events of life. Man found no opportunity to develop self-respect; he recognized only Fear as a motivation and a means to overcome his desires, but from his essential nature, Man remained mean-Spirited, cruel, narrow-minded and enslaved."
"The Culture of Greece aroused the desire for logic and enlightenment, a feeling of yearning for great ideas, and the opening of the Spiritual life of a person through the contemplation of harmonious and beautiful essences of things, and by means of the control of his overwhelming desires, so did the Culture of Greece develop the feeling of self-respect within Man. It could arouse trust in oneself, and give a person responsibility for the conduct of his life...in short, the Spirit of Greece freed Man from the chains which bound him, enlightened him with Culture, beautified his Spirit and filled him with the joy of life."
"...Nevertheless, there was in the Culture of Greece only a grain of Truth, which was fit to redeem humanity; it could only prepare and begin his salvation, in the manner of "let him dwell in the tents of Shem." There is no permanence to Greek Culture as long as it does not combine itself with the Spirit of Shem, as long as it arrogantly assumes that it represents the pinnacle of the Spirit of Man and his Culture.
Therefore, the destiny of Greece was condemned to fall, to descend mightily, and turn into a ...Culture of Slavery, and of straying from the correct path... Even personalities who were the most intellectually enlightened in Greece did not know the wisdom of life, according to which one should conduct ones life, down to the smallest detail...And in daily life, that persons actions contradicted his theories, he became disgusting in his ways and his whole life was brought down, without any cultural content or value...This Culture knows only of the rights of the individual to guarantee his own freedom; but not of the right to freedom that should be guaranteed all others. These human rights were granted only to a small circle of enlightened individuals, who were very arrogant... but they were apathetic, cold, and very cruel with respect to the masses of people..."
"Least of all is this Culture able to provide a foundation for the life of the individual, for family life, or for communal life - life such as would be illuminated by the Light of Truth, elevated because of its Cleanness, organized on principles of Justice, and made complete by Love. There is not in this Culture the capacity to integrate into life all the feelings and thoughts into one consistent mixture, which would give to daily life refinement of soul and true Beauty. It is possible for the Spirit of Yephet to provide only a bit of this harmony to the human heart, but it can never provide complete satisfaction."
"Only the combined action of all those forces can provide the "line of distinction" between Truth and Falsehood, between Cleanness and Uncleanness, between Justice and Force, between Love of the other and total Individualism "
"That miracle can be performed only by the G-d of Shem: 'Let him dwell in the tents of Shem,' the 'Spirit of Shem,' which lies within the People of Israel. It (the People of Israel - trans.) had already begun to accomplish its mission on earth. And in that brief moment, when the nations absorbed just one spark, and even though that spark was full of mistakes and forgeries, there was sufficient in it to ignite and to create revolutions in the paths of Spirit and Feeling among the nations "
"At the time that the Culture of Greece first came into contact with the Presence of Hashem which resides within the "Tents of Shem" in the Land of Yehudah, Jewish Culture per se didn't bother it as much as did the Jewish Code of Law. The hatred of the Greeks was directed primarily against the Ritual Laws of Judaism. The forces of Alexander achieved great victories against the nations of the East; but greater than the battlefield victories was the victory of the Culture of Greece and the Greek Way of Life which the forces of Greece carried with them. The Spirit of Yephet inflames the passions and it was therefore not difficult to find an attentive ear among the defeated nations."
"Yehudah was the only one which reacted with contempt and revulsion to all these abominations (naked athletes in Olympic competition; homosexuality - trans.), which other nations perceived as the pinnacle of wisdom; only the young men of Yehudah were reinforced against the blandishments of the Greeks, and against the new form of Slavery which decorated its chains with flowers "
"Our Sages recount the atrocities perpetrated by the Greeks in Yehudah Yet despite them all, one spark of "Yirat HaShem," Fear of G-d, in the heart of the elderly High Priest in Modiin was sufficient to raise up the courage of his sons, and the fiery spirit of this one family was sufficient to ignite "Emunah" Belief in G-d, in the heart of the entire People. It was not Yehudah HaMaccabee, the valiant hero, who defeated Antiochus; rather, it was the "Lamp of Judaism" that defeated the external shine of Greek arrogance "
"The Spirit of Enlightenment which emanated from Greece, in its pure form, never constituted a danger to the holy ways of Israel, inasmuch as Israel sees it as a contributing cause to the realization of its own destiny; namely, the Enlightenment of Man and his Improvement; then it was always proper to bring into his tent the Truth, and the pure Humanity associated with that Spirit "
"It was then also that as the feet of the great Greek Conqueror (Alexander - trans.) trod on the soil of Eretz Yisrael, marching at the head of his forces towards Jerusalem, carrying in his heart a special anger against the Land of Yehudah then came towards him Shimon the Righteous, one of the last members of the Men of the Great Assembly, of which group Mordechai the Righteous was among its founding members; and to the great bewilderment of all his officers and heads of his legions, when he saw Shimon the Righteous, he descended from his chariot, and bowed before him ; he explained to them that the image of this man had always directed him to victory in battle (Yuma 69)."
"Thus it was shown to this Leader of Greece, immediately with his first contact with Israel, that even though he had been sent to bring all the countries of the East under the wings of the Culture of Europe, despite this, there dazzled and illuminated his eyes, even in the near East, on the very shores of the Meditteranean, a Culture that was greater and more elevated than his "
"Against his will did Yephet bow to Shem, and the great Greek Conqueror was no more than a scout, who captured and prepared the ground for the Spirit of Israel "
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU