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

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Countering the Greeks’ agenda to secularize Mitzvah observance

Countering the Greeks’ agenda to
secularize Mitzvah observance

Rabbi Y. Oliver

(This post comes into continuation to the previous post.)

The same was true of the Greeks’ approach to Mitzvos: They sought “to lead them astray from the Chukim of Your will.”[1] Now, there are three kinds of Mitzvos:

· Eidos: Mitzvos that were established to commemorate a specific event, e.g., Shabbos, Pesach, or Sukkos. On its own, human intellect wouldn’t realize how important these Mitzvos are, but once Hashem commanded us to keep them, we can come to understand and accept the reason behind them.

· Mishpatim: Mitzvos that human intellect can appreciate on its own, such as honoring one’s parents, giving charity, and so on.

· Chukim: Laws that have no rationale, and that we perform simply because Hashem so commanded us. Of these laws it is said: “The Satan and the nations ridicule the Jewish people, saying, ‘What is this Mitzvah, and what rationale does it have?’”[2]

The Greeks didn’t mind the first two categories of Mitzvos, Eidos and Mishpatim, because they can be explained rationally. But they vehemently opposed the observance of “the Chukim of Your will,” because the Chukim are suprarational.

This can be explained on a deeper level. As discussed, the essence of the conflict between the Jewish people and the Greeks lay in a titanic struggle between faith and reason. We explained this above vis-à-vis the struggle over how to view Torah, and the same conflict existed in how to view Mitzvos. The Greeks sought to bring even the suprarational Mitzvos to conform with reason, while the Jews fought to make pure faith permeate all the Mitzvos, to have even the rational Mitzvos performed in a way that transcends reason.

To explain, the Greeks would even have allowed the Chukim if they could be kept in a rational manner. But if the Chukim have no reason, how could they be fulfilled rationally?

This would be a kind of “argument from authority.” An intelligent person can accept the advice of a renowned world-class expert even if he doesn’t personally understand the expert’s rationale. He realizes that in order to understand the topic to the degree of depth that the expert has attained, he would have to spend many years of in-depth study, for “many years inform one with wisdom,”[3] and so in this case, it is only rational for him to rely upon the expert’s vastly superior knowledge. All the more so, an intelligent person can accept that since Hashem created the universe, and His intellect is infinitely greater than ours, it is perfectly reasonable for me, a puny human, to obey the Creator’s instructions even when I do not understand them, and even when my mind tells me the opposite.

This is the meaning of the precise wording of the Ve’al HaNissim prayer, which states that the Greeks sought “to lead them [the Jewish people] astray from the Chukim of Your will.” The Greeks would have allowed the Chukim if they had been kept in a rational manner, as explained. What they opposed was the Jews’ stubborn performance of the Chukim on account of “Your will”—without any reason at all, nor even the reason that Hashem knows better, but simply because Hashem so commanded.

While the Greeks sought to make even the Chukim intellectually agreeable, the Jewish people strove to promote the exact opposite approach—to bring even the rational laws, the Eidos and Mishpatim, to be performed like the Chukim.[4]

Yes, we ought to use our intellect to study and internalize the logical reasons behind the Eidos and Mishpatim. However, we should not do so because intellect itself so dictates. Likewise, Hashem is not instructing us to follow intellect because it has some kind of inherent value, G–d forbid. Rather, even when we use our intellect, as in the performance of these Mitzvos (and in Torah study, and so on), we ultimately do so simply because Hashem commanded us. Thus, at their essence, even the rational Mitzvos are suprarational. And therefore, had Hashem commanded us to do something else to serve Him—even something totally non-intellectual, like chopping wood—we would have done so with the same enthusiasm.[5]

Put differently, in every act of performing a Mitzvah, one should submit oneself to Hashem with two intentions:[6]

The individual intention: One should delve into the significance behind each individual Mitzvah, and remind oneself of its reasons and become inspired by them as one performs the Mitzvah. This is the external aspect of the Mitzvah.

The general intention: As one performs the Mitzvah, one should be mindful that one is performing a divine command. This command is the essential core of the Mitzvah that is common to all Mitzvos—Eidos, Mishpatim, and Chukim alike; positive and negative commandments alike.[7] Since this involves obeying without (or before) understanding, this intention involves a certain self-sacrifice, a surrender of the ego and self that goes against human nature. This is the “Chok” aspect of every Mitzvah, which makes all the Mitzvos essentially suprarational. Although it may be difficult, a Jew is capable of this self-transcendence because of the natural love of Hashem (ahavah mesuteres) that flows from his Jewish Neshamah. Thus, all our observance of Torah and Mitzvos depends upon the foundation of suprarational self-sacrifice—an ability that enables the Jew to give up his life when faced with the challenge of dying al kiddush Hashem.[8]

It was this inner core that came to the fore in the resistance of the Maccabees. The Jews understood that the only way to fight against the Greeks’ war against faith was by intensifying their devotion in the very area that the Greeks sought to eradicate—by arousing their own inner potential for suprarational self-sacrifice.

And so the Jews started a war of the few against the many and the weak against the mighty.[9] Since the Jews’ chances of winning in this insurrection were so minuscule, their behavior was not rational; some would call it a suicide mission. Rather, it was an expression of suprarational faith, and so it was the fit response to the Greeks’ efforts to eradicate the suprarational.

Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim 5729, p. 86 ff. To be continued...

[1] Ve’al HaNissim liturgy.
[2] Rashi on Bamidbar 19:2.
[3] Cf. Iyov 32:7.
[4] Sefer HaMa’amarim 5698, p. 175.
[5] Likkutei Torah, Shelach 40a. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5666, p. 54.
[6] Likkutei Torah, ibid.
[7] Tanya ch. 30.
[8] Cf. ibid. end ch. 25.
[9] Ve’al HaNissim liturgy.

This post was dedicated by Reb Kasriel and Zippi Oliver in honor of 30th yahrtzeit of Shmuel ben Yosef Tzvi on 18 Kislev.

Also dedicated by Rabbi Levi and Chani Kurinsky in honor of the tenth wedding anniversary of Levi Yitzchok Halevi ben Chana Brocha and Chana Bas Yocheved Rivkah on the 1st night of Chanukah, and the birthday of Chana Bas Yocheved Rivkah on the 5th night of Chanukah.

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