Chanukah, the Maccabi Games and the Pintele Yid in Each of Us

If you think about it, it’s very ironic. The Maccabees at the time of the miracle of Chanukah were willing to give up their lives to protect their Jewish values. Their adversaries were the Greeks. The Greeks’ worship of the human body was epitomized by the Olympic Games. Here is the irony: Israel has her own version of the Olympic Games. What are they called? The Maccabi Games!!

My Rabbis at Ohr Somayach would often share this insight around Chanukah time, highlighting the contrast between the Jewish values of the Maccabees and secular values of the Greeks.

Yet I would always remember my own experiences at the Maccabi Games. How two weeks ignited a spark inside me that changed my life and began a spiritual journey that led to me becoming a Rabbi.

I was a rugby player and for that reason, I still follow the sport today, as a sort of homage to the beginning point of my return to Yiddishkeit.

For many baalei teshuva, I suspect, there are moments when we cherish those early beginnings and appreciate the help we got from the secular part of our lives.

I think that it is important to keep this in mind when we see people beginning their journey back to Judaism. The truth is that we all have the ‘pintele Yid’ – the tiny pinpoint of a Jewish neshama (soul) inside of us. Its light is never extinguished. But for many Jews it is dimmed and needs to be re-ignited. So when it does get ignited, we should be careful to nourish that small flame, through celebrating a Shabbat meal with them or showing them how to light a Menorah, or a myriad of other things. We should be careful not to be too harsh on the secular point of origin.

We all know that the initial spark is not enough. But it deserves some credit.

(Note: We would like to welcome Rabbi Kahn as a regular contributor to Beyond Teshuva. Rabbi Zev Kahn is better known in the Chicagoland area as the Rugby Rabbi from his days as a former Maccabi Games gold medallist. Originally from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Rabbi Kahn spent six years in Jerusalem studying at Ohr Somayach, an advanced Torah learning institute, where he obtained his ordination, helped lead various programs for students and was Assistant Director of the Ohr Lagolah Teachers Training Program.

In 1998, together with his wife, he came to Chicago as Associate Director of Outreach at the Chicago Community Kollel. In 2001 TLC (Torah Learning Center) of Northbrook was launched by the Kollel to serve the Jews of the Northern suburbs. In 2005, Rabbi Kahn formed JET to more effectively service young Jews on campus through the highly successful Maimonides Leaders Fellowship.

The Kahns live with their four children in West Rogers Park.)

3 comments on “Chanukah, the Maccabi Games and the Pintele Yid in Each of Us

  1. Reb Zev,

    I meant the assimilated/Hellenized Jews of today. I am not a kiruv pro, so if your question is technical, direct it to the pros. But if you want my particular perspective from having come from a universal/liberal/reform background and having worked with gerim, anti-missionary, Bnai Noach and Anousim as well as kippa-sruga Israelis, I would say that a strong world vision attracts our own Jews. The Jew who is convinced that all the rabbis care about is pots and pans might be induced to feel differently IF he or she is shown love and introduced to a loving (as opposed to self-interested) concern for the greater world.


  2. Dear Yehoshua,

    Thanks for the comment. Can you do me a favor and explain the last sentence: “We have to do everything to get them back.” Who is ‘them’ in this case? And can you give me an example of ‘getting them back?’


  3. The irony is appropriate, but I think that Chazal recognized it as well. The reason that Chanuka didn’t get a tractate in Talmud was because the Chashmonaim not only took power as kings, which cohanim were not supposed to do, but also because the assumption of power led to the assimilating lifestyle of Hellenism. The same thing is happening today.We have to do everything we can to get them back.

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