The Ox Horn Incident

"The Greeks ordered that the Jews write on the horns of their oxen: 'We have no part in the God of Israel.'" Why did Antiochus choose oxen? And even granted the agrarian nature of the Jewish nation, what did Antiochus hope to accomplish by such a bizarre decree?

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch
Among the midrashim about Chanukah is that "the Greeks ordered that the Jews write on the horns of their oxen: 'We have no part in the God of Israel.'" Why did Antiochus choose oxen? And even granted the agrarian nature of the Jewish nation, what did Antiochus hope to accomplish by such a bizarre decree? It certainly seems rather pale and weird, as compared to instituting the death penalty for teaching Torah, circumcision and Shabbat observance.

Breslover teachings relate all this to the word Chanukah, and the concept of chein at its root and how it relates to Yosef. Certainly, the word chein is repeated again and again throughout the Yosef story (B'reishit 39:4 and 21; Rashi on 49:22), as Yosef was the ba'al chein, one who possessed a certain inward grace that radiated outward. In this, Yosef is the model of Israel, per the Midrash ( Tanchuma, Vayigash 10): "All that happened to Yosef HaTzaddik happened to Zion." As Rabbi Matis Weinberg explains (Patterns in Time, "Chanukah", page 78): the word Tzion in Hebrew is equivalent to Tzaddik (for Yosef) plus Yavan ("Greece," in Hebrew; the letters for tz plus y-v-n). The beauty, chein, of Yosef was the counterpart and counterpoint to the beauty of Greece. To an extent, it was the emptiness of the Greek beauty, and the dangers of that beauty, that the sons of Yaakov saw in Yosef. That incited the hatred of the brothers.

In Breslover thought, the Greeks' hatred of the Jews stemmed from the same pursuit of beauty: they also saw Yosef as their competitor. He was Israel's "b'chor shor" (Devarim 33:17), firstborn beautiful ox, signifying that Yosef-Zion-Israel is God's "firstborn." This, the Greeks could not abide. Not only did they consider their progenitor Yephet (whose very name means beauty) as the predominant son of Noach, as he was older than the father of the Semites, Shem, but they considered their philosophy to be more advanced than the Torah of the Jews. In the aggadata, Greek wisdom actually began with the meeting of Yirmiyahu the prophet and Plato in Egypt - Greek philosophy was borrowed from Jewish wisdom. But now, in their jealousy of their former teachers, the Greeks had the Jews carve on their oxen's horns: "We have no part in the God of Israel."

Greek philosophy, though, has a weakness. Reading Plato, one sees how the systematic questioning of everything led to sophistry, the cynical taking of both sides of every argument, leading to no practical conclusions. Worse, a way of thinking was ingrained in which only the questions and answers of the philosopher-teacher were allowed. This rigidity, and the above jealousy, fanned the flames of hate and intolerance.

Certainly, on Chanukah we thank the Almighty for the Hasmonean's military victory. And on Chanukah we also thank the Lord for victory over intolerance and the renewal of Judaism that the Hasmonean victory allowed. The lesson is still alive and pertinent: not only do Judaism's two daughter religions to this day claim to have replaced her, but sadly, Jews themselves do not learn the meaning of tolerance.

President George Bush and Natan Sharansky may want to teach the Arabs democracy, but they could certainly start right here in Israel, the cradle of civilization and Mosaic freedom (as in "Let my people go"). One aspect is certainly the right of any Jew to settle in the Land of Israel. Another is the lack of freedom of speech seen in this country. The hypocritical allowing of Abie Nathan to broadcast for decades, while shutting down Arutz Sheva by the cynical use of "democratic" legislature and judiciary is a case in point. It was done so that there would be no voice raised daily, in every car, Egged bus, kitchen and parlor in this country against the evils of "disengaging" and for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael. Arutz Sheva Radio was the "settlers station," all right. Although Voice of Israel has improved greatly since the foolhardiness of the Oslo Accords' empowering terrorists has become more evident, no one can forget that for decades right-wing callers and politicians were abruptly turned off and cynically scorned by Voice of Israel DJ's.

Arutz Sheva Radio was the voice of those who unashamedly stood up for Zion (Tzion) and the Jews' God-given right to live in and rule her . She had all the chein of the beautiful ox. And just as the sons of Jacob were not united until Yehudah proclaimed, "I am the guarantor of my brother (B'reishit 43:9)," so too Yehudah Maccabee fought to rescue fellow Gileadean Jews with the cry: "We fight for our brothers today."

Only when modern Yehudah protects Binyamin, and the evils of destroying Gush Katif and Arutz Sheva Radio are righted, will modern Israel have been healed.

One last Breslover thought. The turning dreidel, the sivivon, represents the revolving of fate. Whether we are up or down, landing on the letter gimmel or pei, the One (at the center of all) is always with us, giving us chein and light and victory . Arutz Sheva has certainly suffered all the ups and downs along with us settlers, and both she and we are promised ultimate Geulah.

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