"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chanukah: A titanic conflict of wisdoms


Chanukah: A titanic conflict of wisdoms

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Oil represents wisdom,[1] and so the oil of the Holy Temple represents the wisdom of Torah, while the Greeks’ efforts to contaminate this oil represents their efforts to bring secular wisdom to be dominant. Thus, the struggle between the Maccabees and the Greeks was essentially a struggle between two kinds of wisdom, each of which seeks total domination.

Although secular wisdom can be very profound, Torah wisdom is so vastly superior to it that the Zohar comments[2] on the verse, “And I saw that there is an advantage to wisdom over foolishness”[3] that King Solomon was describing the greatness of “wisdom”—Torah, over “foolishness”—secular wisdom.

Thus, secular wisdom is associated with the evil inclination, which is called an “old and foolish king,” while wisdom of Torah is associated with the good inclination, which is called an “unfortunate, wise child.”[4]

To explain, wisdom of holiness engenders bittul—self-effacement and humility, while wisdom of Kelipah engenders yeshus—egotism and arrogance. This also translates itself into one’s interaction with others: yeshus leads to conflict and division, while bittul fosters harmony and unity. The reason for this difference is as follows:

The underlying purpose of wisdom of holiness, Torah, is to explain how the universe was created yesh mei’ayin, something from “nothing”—i.e., from pure G–dliness. Moreover, even after being created, everything in the universe depends absolutely upon this G–dliness for its ongoing existence, and so even now, the true reality of the universe is G–dliness.[5] The awareness of our total dependence upon G–d permeates everything we do with faith in Divine Providence. Likewise, since this wisdom focuses on bittul, studying it imbues one with bittul—with the willingness to nullify oneself, i.e., humility. Thus, Torah wisdom is indeed true wisdom.

In contrast, wisdom of Kelipah, secular wisdom, explains not the ayin, pure transcendent G–dliness, but the yesh, the egotistical world that feels itself to be independent from its source in G–dliness and self-sustaining, G–d forbid. Since this wisdom focuses on yeshus, on the universe as it feels itself independent from G–d, studying it imbues one with yeshus—with arrogance and a sense that one does not truly need G–d (G–d forbid). Ultimately, this leads to heresy—total denial of G–d and rejection of His providence, may G–d save us. Thus, secular wisdom is indeed true foolishness.

This manifests itself in the different impact of these wisdoms on the student’s intellect and emotions. In general, intellect seeks to transcend personal bias and focus on the topic at hand in an objective way, which is the idea of bittul, while emotions focus on subjective, self-centered considerations, which is the idea of yeshus.

Since Torah engenders bittul, it imbues an even greater measure of bittul in the intellect, bringing one to true objectivity, and it even elevates the self-focused emotions to a state of bittul.

Conversely, secular wisdom, which engenders yeshus, brings the emotions to be even more self-focused than they would have been otherwise—i.e., it fosters coarseness and wicked character traits. What’s worse, it even corrupts the otherwise truth-seeking intellect to a state of selfishness and arrogance.

This is the reason that many great gentile sages were notorious for being extremely corrupt and decadent. Their wisdom did not translate itself into more refined behavior; on the contrary, they were more immoral than others of average intellect. The reason is, as explained, that secular wisdom instills and bolsters coarseness and arrogance.

(It should be noted that the above explains the natural impact of each of these wisdoms. However, if one learns Torah without fear of Hashem, G–d forbid, it may become an “elixir of death,” having a very negative effect on the person[6]; conversely, if one is strong in one’s fear of Hashem and studies secular wisdoms in the appropriate way, with the right intentions, they can be beneficial.[7])

Based on Toras Menachem 5714, Vol. 1, p. 300 ff.


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[1] Zohar 3:7b.
[2] ibid. 3:47a.
[3] Koheles 2:13.
[4] Ibid. 4:13. Koheles Rabba, ibid.
[5] Cf. Tanya, Sha’ar HaYichud VehaEmunah, chs. 1-3.
[6] Yoma 72b.
[7] Cf. Tanya, end ch. 8.


This post was dedicated by Reb Kasriel and Zippi Oliver in honor of the birthday of Sara Rochel Tsap (Sara Rochel bas Hindeh Zeldah Bracha) on 11th Cheshvan. Also dedicated by Shmuli Markel and family (Shmuel Leib ben Esther and Sara Rochel bas Chaye Nechomoh). Also dedicated lizchus Rabbi Yossi Soble (Yosef Yitzchok ben Menucha Chaya) and family. May we be immediately reunited with the Rebbe!

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