Imagining Chanukah

Imagination vs. intellect in the Chanukah lights.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

In January 1989 we decided that, since we were making Aliyah in the summer, it was time to see parts of the US that we hadn't been to before. We took the kids out of school (boy, was I a hero with them) and headed south and east from Chicago: Mammoth Cave, Kentucky; Lookout Mountain, Tennessee (Shimon the future IDF soldier, then
It is of interest to note what Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook thought of the human capacity for imagination.
not quite 3 1/2 years old, bought himself a "Silver War hat because I'm going to Israel to pow those Palace Indians"); and finally Disneyworld, Orlando, Florida.

At Epcot Center we were all entranced by one building: Imagination. This was a tribute to that quality which had launched Mickey, Donald, Goofy and all the rest out of the fertile imagination of one Walt Disney. It was complete with colored water sprays that danced to music (two of my kids promptly landed in one), flashing colored lights and strobes and phosphorescent screens that held your image long after you finished posing in front of them. Laughing and highly impressed by the show, it is of interest to note what Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook thought of the human capacity for imagination, especially in "light" of Chanukah.

The Gemara (Shabbat 60a) brings the story of the "nailed sandal". During the Hadrianic persecutions (117-138 CE), Jews fled for their lives and hid in caves (thus, many caves, especially in the areas of Beit Shemesh, Beit Guvrin, and Gush Etzion are labeled "Bar Kochba caves"). It happened that many Jews were hiding in one cave and they had a rule that one could enter, but there was no leaving, for fear that Romans would see the activity and find the Jews. As entering was a matter of life and death, that was allowed. One certain Jew, running for his life, put on his hobnailed sandals backwards and entered the cave. But since the footprints he left were backwards, they indicated that someone had left the cave. This caused a general panic among the Jewish refugees, who stampeded. Running out of the cave, those with their hobnailed sandals killed more Jews than were eventually killed by Romans.

In Ein Aya (page 193), Rabbi Kook discusses this story: "The rule of the powers of imagination occurs whenever there is failure of the ascendancy of the intellect (sechel), which is the proper ruler." Rabbi Kook explains that the imagination's true job is to take all the sensual input from the outside world and present it (in real time or in remembered details) to the sechel for judgment and planning. "But modern culture is built on a base of the power of imagination. This is an inheritance from the ancient world's idolatry, which led to (Grecian) worship of the beauty of the human body, as seen in the arts." (Orot, Yisrael Utchiyato, par. 17, page 34)

The myriad inputs of individual data from the senses led to worship of all these details (peratim). In ancient times, this manifested as worship of idols of stone and wood. Greece changed this to worship of the human body and its development (sport, athletics). The modern world has progressed beyond even a minimal, Grecian search for universal ideals to total worship of Man: his will, his ideas, his every ephemeral desire and pleasure (Rabbi Tzvi Tau, Emunat Iteinu 7, pages 190-195). Lost is the light (ohr, as in Chanukah light) of intellect, the ruler over the details, who can bind all these peratim with the unity (klal) achieved by abstract thought, using absolute truths as the measuring rod. Even in the realm of society and nations, as long as one doesn't injure the next guy or nation, and doesn't become a charity burden on society, he maintains his right to exist.

Of course, the low level of abstraction that imagination allows is all practical and utilitarian - practical sciences flourish, but the moment some "old geezer has outlived his usefulness," his life will now be ended by some doctor's "Do Not Resuscitate" order (or, convinced of the rightness of this path, the patient's own living will accomplishes the same thing).

"There is a vast difference," writes Rabbi Kook (Maamarei HaR'iya, p. 148) between the concept of life based on the power of imagination, and that which comes from the sechel (intellect). Intellect judges based on the reality of the way things are, and not on how things are pictured by the individual (or a society) imprisoned by its imagination: "Only the sechel can lead to unity and peace. Only the sechel can judge the absolute rightness of a path no matter whether it leads to a given goal or has any chance of success."

Indeed, that is the Chashmonai spirit, doing what is right no matter what the consequences or odds (which were greatly against the Hasmoneans, not only in war, but even in lighting oil for beyond one night). Rabbi Kook concludes that the "pure light of sechel, the Ohr HaGanuz (the "light" hidden in each and every person's soul) will banish the darkness of imagination and lead to the complete unity that will appear from Israel in its present
Rabbi Weinberg elaborates on this idea of "imprisonment in one's imagination."

Rabbi Matis Weinberg discusses this Ohr HaGanuz in his monumental book Frameworks: Chanukah. This Ohr HaGanuz is the original light that shown during the first 36 (the total number of eight days worth of Chanukah candles) hours of creation. With this light, Adam saw "from one end of the earth to the other." (Talmud Yerushalmi 8;5) This light, which is the light of Chanukah, was not simply a light of separate photons, separate details (peratim). It was the sum total of all information in the universe, a unique light by which the sechel sensed truth in an immediate, prophetic way (Emunat Iteinu, 198-200).

Rabbi Weinberg elaborates on this idea of "imprisonment in one's imagination." This is seen in the totality of the story of Yosef and his brothers, and is the clue to the Jew-vs.-Jew rivalry in the Chanukah story, and which continues until today in the battle of Jew vs. Israeli. Rabbi Weinberg sees this as a jealous rivalry between the mah betza (Genesis 37:26) attitude of Yehuda and the dreams of Yosef. Yehuda and the brothers were only interested in the mechanical, non-abstract world of the utilitarian; in their view, "Joe the idiot" dreamer could in no way be capable of running a country. In fact, with his charm (chein), handsomeness and love of aesthetics, they figured that if Yosef ended up anywhere, it'd be in some brothel or house of idolatry. They saw in Yosef all the choshech d'Yavan, the darkness and dangers that Greece really did pose to Yisrael. Even today, "Greek" culture, philosophy, ideals and arts, with their 2,100 years of evolution, represent a tremendous challenge to a Jew, especially a "Yosef Jew", with his natural bent for aesthetics and beauty.

But Yosef and Yaakov knew the truth: there is no true Judaism, and no true Torah, without the chein of Yosef. Yisrael was meant to have the pomp and circumstance of Temple and kingdom. Indeed, it is Yosef and his dreams that feed the world. The ma betza brothers are starving in Canaan and only the dreamer, running the mightiest empire on Earth, has food. But Yosef is not about to part with bread in exchange for the brothers' mere money. The brothers are imprisoned by an imagination that does not let them see reality as it is: 'This is Yosef standing in front of you - little brother Joe, who you see as the idiot dreamer." Like spies, you think you can manipulate all the peratim of this world, because the world functions in a perfect Newtonian, mechanistic way? Fine, but you'll starve if you hold onto the beliefs created by imagination.'

The brothers realized that Yosef didn't want or need money, and that the only coinage of any value were "the peanuts of Father Yisrael" (Genesis 43:11), the father of the unity of Israel, of the relationship of all 12 disparate peratim - tribes - that made up a nation of Israel. Chein and relationship were the only thing that really matter; and until the brothers stood up for that truth (Genesis 44:18), they would stay in the Egyptian prison as spies, the last stop for those fettered by the rule of imagination, idolatry and mechanics.

The story of the hobnailed sandal taught Rabbi Kook the dangers of imagination, the forsaking of the light of sechel and Chanukah. We too suffer from modern Israeli "spies," who view life purely as a matter of mechanics: how many tanks and soldiers, and oil, wealth and influence do the Arabs have, and how many do we have? Panic has led to the even greater danger of the stampede to import and arm terrorists, and to (Heaven forbid) give them a state. Imagined dangers lead to even more tragic errors: we have to give them a state, or else they'll magically turn into Israeli citizens and vote us out of existence (who in their right mind would give these barbarians recognition as Yisrael, or "Israeli"?). Pure sechel says that the greater, immediate danger are the terrorists and leftist ideas
The Haftarah of Chanukah says it all.
themselves, not future Arab demographics.

The Haftarah of Chanukah says it all. Yehoshua Kohen Gadol (High Priest Joshua) is shown visions that he does not understand, imprisoned as he is in his own imagination. First, he sees the cornerstone of the second Temple, with its limited, mechanistic outlook of the seven eyes, the seven powers of the Zodiac (according to Malbim). They are lower, materialistic powers, even though they are in truth powered by seven Godly sephirot (Kabbalistic qualities of the Almighty). But Zechariah (Chapter 4:6) and Yehoshua are then prophetically (direct message of light to the sechel, shorn of imagination) shown the third, future Temple, from a time when eventually all the sons of Yisrael will dethrone imagination and unite around sechel, its menorah with its Ohr HaGanuz, the Light of Creation - Chanukah - and its message: "Not by the might of arms, nor by physical strength, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of the hosts of Creation."