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This month we look forward to Chanukah with profound hope and acute longing. For most of us,

the darkness into which the world has plunged is an incomparable experience. We pray that the

tiny lights of Chanukah will cut through the inky blackness and illuminate a way forward into



What is the power and meaning of this special holiday? Although it is considered a minor

occasion and the last of those to be instituted in ancient times, Chanukah is one of the most well-

known and widely celebrated on the Jewish calendar. The story has universal appeal. The few

conquered the many, the pure obliterated the impure, the righteous vanquished the wicked. Who

doesn’t love a happy ending? But is Chanukah more than a good story, latkes, and gelt? Is there a

deeper meaning?


Chanukah speaks to the battle between the desires of the physical world versus the elevation and

purity of spiritual aspirations. One could say this is the conflict of pursuing temporary pleasures

at the cost of lasting purpose and happiness. The Maccabees reestablished the Holy Temple

against impossible odds in order to commit to serving Hashem rather than serving Hellenistic

indulgence. Chanukah is all about learning Hashem’s Torah. We were denied that birthright by the

secular Greeks. Their universities and athletic events were deemed worthy where religious

traditions were banned upon pain of death.


I have often wondered why our history is replete with those who wish to destroy us and

terminate Torah learning.  Why does it bother them so much? Live and let live, right? Why

should anyone care if we establish yeshivos, mesivtas, Jewish day schools, and the like? We

aren’t disturbing anyone. Why have we been persecuted in every generation for thousands of

years? Even now anti-Semitic attacks are nearly doubling every year, especially here in New

York. Why is this happening? What did we do to deserve such raw animosity?


Perhaps the battle of Chanukah can shed light on this. Religious belief versus secular science is

not just a theological discussion. It is the most personal topic I can imagine. Think about it. If

one admits that there is a Creator, then one must question the purpose of creation and what the

Creator demands of us.  If there are absolute laws and morals, then I am no longer free to do

whatever I want.  I must shackle myself to the will of the Creator and do whatever He desires of

  1. Regardless if His will is what is truly for the best, perhaps one feels more drawn to the

pleasures of the moment. The eye sees, and the heart wants.  We are specifically commanded to

not follow our eyes and hearts in the pursuit of physical pleasures. That is a high bar for most

people. Anyone else who lives by that moral code is a direct threat to a lifestyle of unbridled,

guiltless gratification.


The entire purpose of creation is for Klal Yisrael to study Torah and to practice the mitzvos.

The Hellenists understood that they cannot just live and let live. Our way of life directly

threatens theirs. The pleasure seekers invariably find themselves feeling empty and depressed. Is

this all there is?  Why are so many one-percenters miserable? Divorce and drug addiction are

rampant among the privileged. If having stuff and enjoying experiences is so great, then why

must they seek artificial, chemical highs? Because it is all empty. It doesn’t fill the soul or

address the spirit. If people find out what it is like at the top, the entire pyramid of pleasure will 

collapse. They cannot afford to shine the light of Chanukah, the light of Torah on their way of life

lest the bitter truth become revealed.


Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato in Messilas Yesharim (1:21) writes that the soul despises the

physical world. It finds no satisfaction at all in physical pleasure. Its only fulfillment is in the

study of Hashem’s Torah and the performance of His commandments. May we merit to

understand the true meaning of Chanukah and implement that in our daily lives to find true satisfaction in this world as well as the next. Have a happy, lit Chanukah!

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