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Lessons from Hanukkah for Our Time

In order for our victory over our enemies to be complete, we need a detailed practical path for its realization * We too need to repent, and free ourselves from the conception that it is enough to adhere to general ideas * We need to prepare a detailed plan for resolving conflicts, by encouraging emigration * IDF soldiers fulfill with self-sacrifice two commandments that are equivalent to the entire Torah: saving the nation, and settling the Land * Through their self-sacrifice for their national identity, Pappos and Lulianous rose to the level of righteousness and holiness

As is known, all the holidays that our Sages enacted to commemorate the victories and achievements that the people of Israel had in the days of the Second Temple, were nullified after the destruction of the Temple, and only the days of Hanukkah remained for us. This is because Hanukkah had two foundations that complemented each other. One was thanksgiving for the miracle of victory over the Greeks and the liberation of the Temple, and for this purpose they instituted saying the complete Hallel with a blessing during the eight days of Hanukkah and “Al Ha-Nissim”. The second was the miracle of the flask of oil, for which our Sages instituted lighting candles for eight days, in order to publicize it. Were it not for the permanent commandment to light the candles, the holiday of Hanukkah would also have been nullified (Rosh Hashanah 18b; Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 11:1).

This is true for everything – in order for something to endure, it needs to have both a great idea of thanksgiving in saying Hallel for God’s help for Israel, and the great idea also needs to come to practical expression in the particular detail of lighting the candles.

Similarly today, in order for our victory over our enemies to be complete, we need to have both a great idea, and a detailed practical path to realize it, and as long as one side is missing, we cannot properly achieve our goal.

On the Conception of the Left and the Right

Many of us rightly complain about left-wing figures who remain captive to a conception, a worldview that a compromise can be reached with the Arabs of the Land of Israel through concessions. However, on the other hand, even right-wing figures fail, in the conception that it is enough to express a principled position that the people of Israel must inherit all of its Land, and relate to anyone who interferes with this as an enemy that must be defeated. However, this position, which is correct, cannot be realized without a realistic plan that deals in a detailed and meticulous manner with all the weighty issues involved therein, just as the commandment to light candles precisely determines when and where to light them, and as is the way of the entire Torah, which guides us how to realize great ideas, within reality.

To that end, we too need to repent, to free ourselves from the conception that it is enough to cling to general ideas, and to encourage experts in the fields of law, economics and international relations to prepare detailed realistic plans to realize these ideas.

An Example of Encouraging Relocation

For example, the vast majority of Zionist Jews agree that it would have been better if the Arabs hostile to the State of Israel would emigrate to other countries. This is the best way to minimize wars, prevent bloodshed, and settle the Land. However, in order for this goal to be achieved, expressing a wish, or acting impulsively out of emotion, is not enough. We need to prepare a detailed plan, based first on gathering all the facts from modern times about resolving conflicts by encouraging emigration. To examine how this was made possible legally, whether through an overall organization of emigration, or by encouraging those interested. At the same time, we must deal with the economic angle. To calculate all the tremendous investments by the nations of the world over seventy years in aid to the “Palestinian refugees,” and find out how much it would cost to settle those interested elsewhere. To check which countries might support this, and which would oppose it. To hold study days about this, in order to refine and process the ideas, and advance them among the public.

As long as we do not do this, on the one hand, there are believers that this is what should be done, who are amazed that politicians do not act to encourage emigration. And on the other hand, politicians who do not even imagine promoting this, because the idea seems very impractical to them.

Here once again – without combining the general idea with the detailed practical way to realize it, it cannot endure.

The Dominion of the Gentiles Defiled the Understanding of Holiness and Torah

Rabbi Kook explained: “The gentiles defiled the revealed aspect of Judaism through their contact, they touched the holy oils and made them impure, the stones of the holy altar were desecrated” (Orot Hatchiya 63). Meaning, not only the external aspects were defiled, but also the holy oils, the altar stones, and expressions of the Torah.

For example, the concept of kedusha (holiness) is perceived in Christianity as connected to self-affliction, death, and detachment from life. So much so that when Jews nowadays try to explain and imagine what a righteous person is, due to this impurity, images arise in their minds of figures far removed from our holy Patriarchs described in the Bible and the words of our Sages, as mighty warriors, men of action who build the world, and sanctify life. Similarly, IDF soldiers who continue in their heroism the soldiers of King David and Judah the Maccabee are seen only as national heroes, but not as righteous in the sanctity of the Torah. However, the truth is that they fulfill with self-sacrifice two commandments equivalent to the entire Torah: saving life, and settling the Land. And as long as this is not recognized, the understanding of the Torah is lacking, and the observance of other commandments, deficient.

How to Purify the Temple

However, one flask of oil, sealed with the seal of the High Priest, remained in its purity. This means, as Maran Rav Kook wrote, that “the innermost secrets, which are hidden and sealed from foreign contact” remained in their holiness. This inner dimension is the root of the soul of Israel, which cannot be altered or defiled, and it is the foundation by virtue of which the pure oil, from which salvation grew, was found. “As long as one’s connection to the entirety of the nation and its character lives within him, as long as he desires the overall success and prosperity of the Israeli nation, even if he does not know how to read it by name and interpret its secrets, and even if he errs in his actions and opinions – his inner self is Holy of Holies.”

The Holiness of Israeli Nationalism

The national aspiration which seeks to increase the glory and blessing of Israel in the ‘Land of the Living’, stems from the segulah (unique quality) expressed in the pure oil. And if one asks, does Israeli nationalism really express the root of holiness? We will answer yes, indeed so, because in this nationalism, lies the deep desire to demand justice and truth, and add goodness and blessing to the entire world.

And this is the most basic destiny of the people of Israel. As was told to Abraham our forefather – to ascend to the Land of Israel, and establish a great nation that would reveal the word of God and His blessing, and from it, blessing would extend to all peoples, as it says: “God said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing I will bless those who bless you, and curse the one who curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you”(Genesis 12:1-3).

If we observe the various groups in the Jewish people, religious and secular, right and left wing, we will find that many people across all circles identify with this purpose. Those who understand that the great vision of Tikkun Olam (perfecting the world) depends on the people of Israel – are connected to the flask of pure oil, from which redemption sprouts, for Israel, and the world.

The Self-Sacrifice of the Martyrs of Lod, Pappos and Lulianous

An example of the holiness of Israeli nationalism we learn from the martyrs of Lod. Our Sages said:

” One time, after the bar Kokheva rebellion, the evil empire of Rome decreed that Israel may not engage in the study and practice of Torah. Pappos ben Yehuda came and found Rabbi Akiva, who was convening assemblies in public and engaging in Torah study. Pappos said to him: Akiva, are you not afraid of the empire?” (Berachot 61b). Rabbi Akiva replied to him with a parable of the fox and the fish, that we have no existence without the Torah, and he continued learning.

“Not a few days passed until they seized Rabbi Akiva and incarcerated him in prison, and seized Pappos ben Yehuda and incarcerated him alongside him. Rabbi Akiva said to him: Pappos, who brought you here? Pappos replied: Happy are you, Rabbi Akiva, for you were arrested on the charge of engaging in Torah study. Woe unto Pappos who was seized on the charge of engaging in idle matters…”

From that imprisonment, it seems Pappos was released. However, in later days, Pappos too was sanctified through self-sacrifice. An incident occurred when the daughter of the Roman ruler in Lod was found murdered, and they decreed on the Jews of Lod that if they do not turn the murderer in, they would kill them all. Two brothers, Lulianous and Pappos, volunteered and said we killed her, and they were taken out to be killed, saving all their brethren (Rashi, Bava Batra 10b).

Our Sages further related about them (Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 3:5), that they were given water in a cup dyed red, so it would seem as if they were drinking Gentile wine, forbidden to Jews. And so as not to desecrate God’s name – they refused to drink it, and because of this, they were taken out to be killed (Tosafot Shabbat 72b “Rava”; Ran Pesachim 50a).

It appears that both incidents involved them: After admitting to killing the ruler’s daughter, they were offered clemency if they would betray their Judaism and drink gentile wine, or at least water from a red cup, and they refused, and were killed (In Imrei Noam of the Gra, to Berachot 61b, it is explained this is the same Pappos, and there are other opinions).

No Man Can Stand in Their Enclosure

Even though Pappos and Lulianous were not known as Torah scholars or righteous men, our Sages said about the martyrs of Lod: “Those executed by the government, no one can stand in their enclosure” (Pesachim 50a), because they sacrificed themselves for their national and religious dignity, and to save their brethren. And here, we have an example of Jews who through their self-sacrifice over their national identity, connected to the flask of pure oil, and thereby rose to the level of the righteous and holy.

And even before their death, they knew to say great words of faith to the ruler. As our Sages said:

“When Trajan sought to kill the important leaders Lulianous and his brother Pappos in Laodicea, he said to them (mockingly): If you are from the nation of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, let your God come and save you from my hand, just as He saved Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah from the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. Lulianous and Pappos said to him: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were full-fledged righteous people, and they were worthy that a miracle should be performed for them, and Nebuchadnezzar was a legitimate king who rose to power through his merit, and it is fitting that a miracle be performed through him. But this wicked man, Trajan, is a commoner, not a real king, and it is not fitting that a miracle be performed through him. Lulianous and Pappos continued: And we are not wholly righteous, and have been condemned to destruction by the Omnipresent for our sins. And if you do not kill us, the Omnipresent has many other executioners. And if men do not kill us, the Omnipresent has many bears and lions in His world that can hurt us and kill us. Instead, the Holy One, Blessed be He, placed us into your hands only so that He will avenge our blood in the future. Even so, Trajan remained unmoved by their response and killed them immediately. It is said that they had not moved from the place of execution when two officials [diyoflei] arrived from Rome with permission to remove Trajan from power, and they split his skull with clubs” (Taanit 18b).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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