by Rabbi Heshy Grossman
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|Throughout our history, Klal Yisrael has been subject to four varied
exiles. Our relationship with the Greek empire is unique. While previous
dynasties fell to newer and stronger enemies, the victory over Greece was
achieved by the Jewish people themselves.
In other words, redemption from Bavel and Persia was not by any merit of our own. Hashem had imposed exile as atonement for our sins, each of those nations functioning as a staff in G-d's Hand. Therefore, when punisment had reached full measure, the strength of those nations disappeared.
The triumph over Yavan, however, was achieved through our own efforts, our success being well-deserved. It is at our hands that Yavan finds its demise.
All this is still true.
While our earlier enemies have long ago vanished without a trace, the battle against Greek wisdom, the basis of Western civilization, rages still. It is not G-d who will interfere, carrying out the Divine plan. The ultimate downfall of Yavan is in our hands.
In this shiur we will clarify the nature of our struggle, and the merit by which we are sustained.
The Mishna discusses the seriousness with which a Jew approaches prayer, and the prohibition of interrupting the Amidah.
"Even were a king to inquire as to his well-being, he should not respond, and even if a snake wraps itself around his heel, he should not interrupt." (Berachos 4,1)
"Amar Rav Sheshes, Lo Shanu Ela Nachash, Aval Akrav, Poseik. (we have learned only 'a snake', but for a scorpion, one would interrupt) (Berachos 33a)
The Vilna Gaon teaches that this passage actually alludes to two different forms of evil confronting the man who strives to approach G-d.
As we discovered in the Garden of Eden, the wily snake seductively offers sweet-tasting pleasures in his unceasing attempt to bring man down to earth. Indulging in his treats may put a foreign taste in our mouths, but it doesn't affect our essence.
Simply put, we may sin from time to time, and partake of forbidden fruit, but we don't deny our identity, remaining connected to the One above.
The Akrav has a different agenda. The name hints at his function, to uproot the Ikkar, the fundamental principles that are the basis of our faith.
Let us explain.
We live in a society that is based upon a lie, the idea that pleasure and excitement can satisfy our need for a meaningful and fulfilling life. While our focus may be distorted, leading us to opt for passing fancies rather than timeless truths, our insanity is only temporary, blinded by the snake's attractive appeal. We stray for the moment, and make the wrong choice. This system may be spiritually damaging, but it doesn't impact upon the Ikkar, our fundamental belief in the eternity of our faith.
The scorpion presents a different option. He presides over a well-developed worldview, intellectually sound, and resonant of ancient wisdom. He demands supremacy, and presses his claim for the crown of glory, rightful possession of the man who unlocks the secrets of the world.
The snake goes after the body, while the scorpion poisons his mind.
Hence, the ruling of our Mishna: If a snake is wrapped around us, we need not interrupt our prayer. We can stand before G-d, though we often sin. If however, the scorpion has made his presence felt, we are cut off from our souls, our prayer disconnected from the One truth, He who hears our cry.
Ancient Greek wisdom is the basis of modern intellectual thought. The pursuit of secular knowledge remains the cornerstone of Western ideology. What is the difference between Torah and Chachmas HaGoyim?
Secular wisdom strives to understand the physical world. Scientists investigate and explore the universe's expanse in their quest to uncover the secrets of existence. Physicists explain the laws of nature, describing the inner workings of all that man can see.
Torah, on the other hand, explains the meaning and purpose of the physical world. While science hopes to classify all known natural phenomena, Torah defines the world as it relates to man.
Science teaches us what the physical world looks like. Torah teaches us what to do with it.
Science believes that if they can understand all of nature, they will have a grasp on the totality of existence. Torah students view the physical world as a vehicle to connect to a higher reality, above and beyond the natural world of our senses.
It is for this reason that Shlomo HaMelech is known as the wisest of all men. His Sefer Mishlei, the Book of Parables, utilizes the physical entity of this world as an allusion to a world of deeper truth. While the wisdom of mortal man explains the world at hand, the wisdom of Shlomo HaMelech is of a different sort entirely, relating the wisdom of man to an elevated dimension of reality.
Let us illustrate the effects of an outlook based on secular wisdom.
Why is it that society encourages the multi-million dollar expenditures incurred by space exploration? Would not the money be more productively spent improving the lives of people living on earth? Why is it important to have an internationally manned space station if thousands of homeless and impoverished people live on city streets?
What would man do if he lived on the moon? Watch cable TV? Play computer games? In fact, what exactly is the relevant significance of possible life on other planets? Just imagine the uproar if an astronaut walking on Mars were to discover a live worm! Really now, a worm??!! That would be earth-shattering news??!! Why should we care? Don't we already have more worms than most of us will ever need?
The answer to all these questions is obvious. Space is man's last frontier. He believes that when the secrets of the galaxies are understood, he will hold all of life's secrets in his hand. Somewhere out there (he hopes), in that vast black hole, lies the origin of life and the age of the universe. When man crosses that last horizon, he will have the totality of existence in his hands.
The secular sage claims the mantle of truth, proffering an approach to life that shunts aside all other views. He has defined existence on his own terms, belittling the faithful believers whose reality differs from his own.
He is the scorpion, "Kofer B'Ikkar", denying the fundamental basis of our faith. There is no approaching G-d in his proximity. His world is self-defined. His bite is worse than death.
In Lashon HaKodesh, every element in life is a 'davar', a word. Every item in creation speaks, expressing the Divine message that is the essence of its being. Unlike the secular worldview of Yavan, where life is perceived as revealing nothing but itself, we hope to unmask the world's physical cover, deciphering the message of every 'davar'. In addition to Chachma, we have Binah - "Meivin Davar Mitoch Davar", and one revelation leads to another.
In order for there to be true speech, one has to have the ability to listen. Hence, a deaf person cannot speak. The ear must be functioning if the word is to be heard. Indeed, in the order of creation, the world created with ten utterances, the ear is the first organ to be revealed.
This idea parallels what we have described, the Torah's view on true wisdom. Knowledge of the physical world is meaningful only to the extent that it reveals a deeper reality. Every 'davar' speaks - if we have the ability to hear. If, however, we close our minds to anything our eye does not perceive, we hear nothing but the hollow sound of a shallow and purposeless material existence.
"Our Rabbis learned: Let not man make heard to his ears to hear idle words, because of all the organs, the ears are burnt first." (Kesubos 5b)
The ears are the most delicate of human organs, its sensivity damaged by neglect or misuse.
Man was put on this earth in order to hear G-d's message, the deeper truth of every 'davar'. If he chooses instead to lend his ear to idle chatter, he sees the surface beauty of a hedonistic world, deaf to the word of G-d that waits for an attentive ear.
Rebbi Yehoshua ben Chanania displays the wisdom of Torah, defeating the elders of Athens, the wise sages of Malchus Yavan. (see Bechoros, 8b)
What is the secret of his success?
Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai had five primary disciples, and he enumerated their praise. While each of his students are marked for their innate qualifications, Rebbi Yehoshua ben Chanania is cited for "Ashrei Yoladeto" - "Praiseworthy is she who bore him" (Avos 2,11). Apparently, the talent of Rebbi Yehoshua is not merely self-defined, but he embodies the ability to relate his qualities beyond his own self. He reveals more than his word, his origin is made apparent by his very essence.
"He saw Rebbi Yehoshua [ben Chanania] and said of him: 'Es Mi Yoreh De'ah, [V'Es Mi Yavin Shemu'ah....]' (Isaiah 28, 9). I recall that his mother brought his cradle to the Bais HaKnesses, so that his ears would cleave to Divrei Torah." (Talmud Yerushalmi, Yevamos 1, 6)
Rebbi Yehoshua, who was protected from hearing idle chatter, successfully develops the ability to hear. He is "Yavin Shemu'ah", studying and reflecting upon all that he hears, until he reveals to the world the deeper truths G-d's world contains. He vanquishes the elders of Athens, for the supremacy of Torah is in a league of its own.
The armies of Yavan sully the Heichal, entering the sanctuary, and defiling its holy abode. The Gimatria, numerical value of Yavan is sixty-six, a level above the Heichal, which is merely sixty-five.
Their defeat is at the hands of B'nai Binah, those who listen to G-d's world, and understand His true intent.
Binah is Gimatria sixty-seven.
"Yevanim Nikbetzu Ali, Azai B'Yimei Chashmanim,
Any questions or comments? Please address them to grossman @actcom.co.il
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