The Chanukah Drama

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz

Suppose you read two reviews in competing newspapers about the same Broadway play. One went something like this: “This drama tells the coming of age story of a young Knight. Set in medieval Scotland, the hero’s dilemmas still speak to modern audiences. The dialogue was crisp but even after a thorough review of the periodic table, chemistry between Mr. Boyer and Ms. Klapholtz was nowhere to be found.” The next notice read “The stages floorboards were mahogany inlaid with spruce. The latest halogen equipment illuminated the boards causing the actors to perspire profusely. The orchestra included some moonlighting philharmonic clarinetists”. You’d probably conclude that although both reviewers witnessed the same performance the second had “missed the boat” and was not offering any real insight as to what the play was about or whether or not it was worth seeing.

Chanukah celebrates the triumph of Torah wisdom over that of the Greeks. Of all Yomim Tovim this theme seems most relevant to us. While we all acknowledge that there is brocha- worthy wisdom among the nations the issues of confluence, congruence and conflict with Torah vex us. Where does Wisdom end and Torah begin?

Perhaps one key to unlocking this enigma inheres in Chazal’s choice of the words Chochma Cheetsonis- External wisdom to describe non-Torah disciplines. Both Torah and nature are revelations of HaShems will. Yet we mustn’t forget which of the two reveals the inner essence and which uncovers the merely peripheral. Without scripts and playwrights, theaters become superfluous. “If not for my covenant day and night (Torah) I would not have set up the laws of heaven and earth (Nature)”. Torah is the Divine drama being played out in the theater, and on the stage, of nature. Uncompromising directors and producers want the lights and the sets to be “just so” as well as the script and the casting. So if it falls our lot in life to be carpenters or lighting technicians in HaShems production then we ought to do our jobs capably and with keen awareness of His will in their implementation. But, we should never confuse those chores with the play itself. If they are true theatre fans even the carpenters will spend every spare moment watching, reading and acting in plays. Imagine a lead actor voluntarily jumping into the orchestra pit to grab a fiddle! The play’s the thing!

During this thanksgiving festival our hearts should overflow with gratitude for our own personal Chanukahs, not only for the miracle of an infinite inexhaustible light, that began as a small fragile flicker, shining into our lives, but also for the miracle of our individual recognition of the primacy of the inner wisdom and the secondary, peripheral nature of the external wisdom. The underpinning of brocha (blessing) is establishing ikkar (primary) and tofel (secondary).

The bard said, “”All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” As such, each of us should say “Blessed are you our Lord King of the universe who chose us from among the nations and gave us his script to read and play a major role in and did not relegate us to carpentry or props.” Chanukah gave us lights… it’s time for action! The show must go on!

2 comments on “The Chanukah Drama

  1. Bob-

    Those are the guys who are blind to the play altogether. This post tells of the dangers of knowing that thre’s a play going on but missing it’s point.

  2. It’s possible that the real problem with external wisdom is not related to its actual properties at all, but to the fact that its ideologically committed devotees do not link today’s natural world, and human thought and activity, to HaShem.

    This is also how the Greeks and Jewish Hellenists were able to misuse Torah; they (like Ptolemy’s librarians in Alexandria) treated it as if it were a human literary product disconnected from the Ribono Shel Olam. Part of their oppression of the Jews was in seeking to get us to view Torah in the same false light.

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