Chanukah – the Prototypical Baal Teshuva Holiday

What’s the prototypical Baal Teshuva holiday? Perhaps it’s Rosh Hoshana with it’s new beginning. Or Yom Kippur with it’s focus on Teshuva. Or the unparalleled joy available us on Succos. Or the rediscovering of true freedom on Pesach. Or the celebration of our new found wisdom in Torah on Shavous. Or partying for the sake of Heaven on Purim.

Let’s make the case for Chanukah. The Greeks opposed Judaism because it’s G-d centered viewpoint was in direct conflict with their nature centered perspective.

Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky explains:

The Greeks believed that the only reality is the physical reality of nature, and that nature was an absolute. If there is a drought, it is the result of natural cycles, and man has to wait out these natural cycles. If calamities befall the world, we search for geopolitical, economic, social, or psychological factors to explain them. G-d has no input in the world after its creation, and it is propelled by fixed forces.

The Jews believed that there is an ongoing relationship between G-d and man, and that the laws of nature are related to a spiritual reality. These two ideas are embodied in Shabbath and in Kiddush HaChodesh, sanctification of the New Moon. Shabbath, the seventh day, imbues the six days of creation with a Kedusha, an INTERNAL spiritual reality which the Greeks denied could exist. And Shabbat embodied a Brith, a covenant, between G-d and the Jewish people, testifying to a unique relationship that existed on an ongoing basis between them. Kiddush HaChodesh manifests man’s influence over the spiritual process. Without man’s input, there are holidays with no holiness. Man can actually create (hidden) spiritual reality.

Rabbi Karlinsky explains how the miracle of the oil brings home the message that the physical is rooted in the spiritual:

The Mishkan and the Beit Hamikdash are the meeting places between infinite G-d who descends to manifest his presence in the finite world, and finite man who strives to elevate himself to the heights of an infinite G-d. It is the most tangible manifestation of the concept of “chibur elyon v’tachton,” the unification of the transcendent spiritual world with the material physical world.

But the challenge of a Jew is to reveal that unification in the ongoing functioning of the world, in nature, and in man himself.

The rising and setting sun, the rainfall, the birth of a baby, and all the daily events which we take for granted as “nature” are in fact as miraculous as a one-day quantity of oil burning for eight days. To answer the classic question of the Beit Yosef, we can understand the eight days of Chanukah as our declaration and as a revelation of the existence of Divine reality in every aspect of nature, an identity between the one day for which the oil burnt naturally and the seven days when the Menora burnt with no natural explanation. The days of miraculous burning were made possible through the recognition of that inner reality of the natural burning, a reality that truly exists only because of the unification of the Divine with physical matter. This is a reality not apparent when one looks only at the surface, limited to observable nature, represented by the number seven.

I think this is what attracts many BTs to Obsrvant Judaism. They sense that there’s something greater than the physical and when the portal of Torah introduces them to the world of the spiritual they know they’ve found the truth.

Unfortunately many ex-BTs don’t actually cross the threshold to the reality of spirituality through Torah, Tefillah and mitzvos so they retreat back into the world of the physical.

Chanukah is the prototypical holiday of the Baal Teshuva because it’s focus on the battle between the physical and the spiritual is familiar territory for us. It’s also our holiday because it keeps us aware that we need to continue to learn and progress in Torah, Tefillah and mitzvos to continue to hold on to that spiritual reality.

4 comments on “Chanukah – the Prototypical Baal Teshuva Holiday

  1. Via the “eight”-related numerology of MaHaRaL, one could make the case that both Chanukah and Shmini Chag haAtzeres stress the supernatural aspect of having a relationship with a Being outside of the natural world.

  2. Similar to the “God is Dead” worldview and to the Evolutionists (people who make the theory of evolution the foundation of their personal adherence to eugenics or to a non-belief system, as opposed to genuine scientists doing serious research).

  3. Bob, I think that’s true and I think it’s consistent with having a non-spiritual view of the world.

  4. One could make the case that the Greek philosophical approach was ego-centered, and that the underlying purpose of its associated view of nature was to exclude G-d from consideration/discussion.

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