The story of Hanukkah: Culture shock and and self-hatred

This story is told to us not merely for itself. It’s a lesson showing that a Jew should never to fall in love with any place on earth except Eretz Yisrael, nor with any gentile culture. Even America.

HaRav Avigdor Miller zts"l

Judaism Jews around the world
Jews around the world
INN:Toras Avigdor

Part I: Culture shock

In Mesichta Shabbos (21b) the question is asked: מַאי חֲנוּכָּה – What’s Hanukkah all about? And we all know the answer to that – it was יְוָנִים נִקְבְּצוּ עָלַי, the wicked Greeks gathered against us to destroy us.

We said it today in the siddur: כְּשֶׁעָמְדָה מַלְכוּת יָוָן הָרְשָׁעָה עַל עַמְּךָ יִשרָאֵל לְהַשְׁכִּיחָם תּורָתֶךָ. The Syrian Greeks wanted to stamp out the Torah and we battled against them for many years; and finally, בְּרַחֲמֶיךָ הָרַבִּים עָמַדְתָּ לָהֶם בְּעֵת צָרָתָם, Hashem, in Your great mercy You saved us. It was רְשָׁעִים בְּיַד צַדִּיקִים and זֵדִים בְּיַד עוסְקֵי תורָתֶךָ – The wicked Yevanim fell into the hands of the tzadikim and the Am Yisroel merited to the miracle of the little bit of oil lasting for eight days. That’s the story we all know.

Now, pay attention because the truth is very different – actually the story is not so simple. I must explain something first: The chachomim who composed our tefillos were very careful with the honor of the Jewish people and so they didn’t make the truth so open. It's only from people like me who like to rake up mud and tell the dirt that you’ll hear this. And the truth is that I wouldn't tell it either, but since it's already told – Josephus and the Book of Maccabees tells the whole story already – so now it's no secret anymore that actually, it was the Jews who caused the whole thing.

Civil War in Eretz Yisroel

It was the Jews who were the source of trouble, only that these troublemaker Jews used the Greeks as a way of forcing their fellow Jews to forsake the Torah. It wasn’t the Yevanim (Greeks) who were our worst enemies – it was the Misyavnim (Hellenists), the ones who wanted to be like the Greeks. And it was only because of these Greek wannabes that our forefathers had to fight.

And therefore when you read in the siddur that “the kingdom of the Greeks” arose against the Jewish people, it’s only that the chachomim wanted to be solicitous to us, so they let it seem as if goyim came. But who really were the zeidim who fell into the hands of oskei sorasecha? Jews! Who really were the resha’im who fell into the hands of the tazdikim? Jews! Our enemies were Jews!

That’s why finally at the end of the whole story, after many wars, Antiochus became so disgusted - I'm skipping the whole story now, I'm going to the end - and he said: "What do these Jews want of me? Why are they dragging me into their own personal problems? If the Jews want to keep their religion, what business is it of mine?"

Do you think Antiochus cared if they studied Torah or not? It was the Jews who wanted to get with the times, to flatter the Greeks and imitate them, that’s who was bothered by Torah and Mitzvah observance, not Antiochus. 
Do you think Antiochus cared if they studied Torah or not? It was the Jews who wanted to get with the times, to flatter the Greeks and imitate them, that’s who was bothered by Torah and Mitzvah observance, not Antiochus. And that’s why at the end he gave up; just before he died he gave up the whole business – because he wasn't interested in the whole thing. Only that he was being prodded and pushed constantly by these Hellenizer Jews.

Trouble From the Tax Authorities

What caused it all? In those days, over a period of forty years, a group arose within our people that began to follow in the ways of the Greeks. It began with a small group of tax collectors, the muchsim, who came into contact with the Greeks for whom they were collecting the taxes. It was a few families and their friends and associates who began to see the ‘beauty’ in Greek culture – they lost sight of the true beauty of the Am Yisroel – and they began to follow the ways of the Greeks

And slowly they increased and multiplied and soon a new class arose in the Am Yisroel — a new class of wealthy assimilationists. They were only a small minority, but still it was a strong and powerful minority; and because of their connections to the Greeks, they were the ones that had the say over the government.

They became whom we now call the Misyavnim, Hellenizers – it means people who have Greek ideas. And so, the first thing was exercise. Exercise is good for your body but for the Greeks the body was everything. They used to exercise naked in order to display their bodies. That’s where the word gymnasium comes from – it means a place of nakedness; gymnos in Ancient Greek means naked. Now, nakedness to the Jewish people was a to’eivah – it was an abomination among Jews. אֵין לְךָ מְשֻׁקָּץ – Nobody is so hated by Hashem as a naked man (Yevamos 63b) in public. And now there were Jews who were exercising naked in the streets of Yerushalayim.

Greek Ways and Modern Progress

Not only exercise – they admired all of the Greek ways; Greek education, Greek art, and entertainment. They liked the Greek theaters. Jews never had theaters before and now the Misyavnim got busy introducing empty ideals into the bloodstream of our nation. The Misyavnim were profaning Yerushalayim with everything the Am Yisroel had always kept far away from. The New York Times would have been proud!

You know, when Teddy Kollek was defeated as mayor of Jerusalem, so the one who sat shivah for him most was the New York Times. They were so sad – they were praising Teddy Kollek – all the good things he did for Yerushalayim. “When he was in power, it started becoming a modern city and today there’s even a little bit of nightlife already in Yerushalayim,” they said. You hear that praise on him? A little bit of nightlife also was beginning to develop in Yerushalayim! And now, nebach, nebach, he was defeated. It was such a sad day for the New York Times. Nightlife! That’s what they want! Nightlife in the holy city of Yerushalayim.

That’s what the Misyavnim wanted for Yerushalayim too! The Greeks were all over the world now and they had the sciences. They also had beautiful architecture. They built buildings that were a beauty to behold. Wherever you went, you could see the results of the great progress and therefore many fell victim to the Greek culture. That’s what happened at the time. The Misyavnim looked up to the advancing Greeks and they started bringing foreign ideas into Eretz Yisroel.

And the good Jews looked on in horror: “What’s happening to our country? These meshugeners fell for the Greeks and they’re bringing in all kinds of abominations now in the country. Who knows what’s going to happen to us?!”

Revolt and Miracles

Everybody knows the rest of the story more or less – I won't tell you now in detail. Am Yisroel revolted against the traitors and many people died at that time. Blood began to pour like water because they didn’t want to yield to the Greeks and their Jewish cohorts – the Jews had to go into hiding from the Greeks in order to keep their Torah. And finally, finally, Mattisyahu was helped by Hakodosh Boruch Hu and he drove out the Greeks.

It didn’t happen so easily – there were nissim (miracles) and nissim. The Greeks of Syria had a big revolt among themselves; they had a lot of internal troubles—it was all Hashem’s doing—and finally after many, many years, Mattisyahu was able to enter Yerushalayim victorious. And they dedicated the Beis Hamikdash and they lit the neiros and the great neis took place – that was מַאי חֲנוּכָּה, the great neis of Hanukkah.

But that’s not our subject tonight. Let’s go back now to the beginning and remember how it began because that is one of the important lessons of Hanukkah. It all started with people who fell in love with the gentile culture. You have to remember that – the people who caused the Am Yisroel the greatest trouble were the Misyavnim, those who came into contact with the outside world and lost their heads.

Yosef (Joseph) Hatzadik Stands Strong

Now, before we proceed we should remind ourselves about a certain incident in our history, about a man who didn’t fall in love with the country he was in; a man who when surrounded by the culture around him, didn’t succumb to its influence.

When we study the career of Yosef Hatzadik, we should ask ourselves: What was the moment in his life when he was put to the biggest test? What was his most bitter test of all? You’ll be surprised at the answer. You know what it was? When Pharaoh took off his ring and put it onto Yosef’s finger and said, בִלְעָדֶיךָ לֹא יָרִים אִישׁ אֶת יָדוֹ וְאֶת רַגְלוֹ בְּכָל אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם – “I’m giving you full power,” that was it!

It’s really astonishing that Yosef didn’t faint at that moment. The blood should have rushed to his head and he should have had a stroke right then! Here he was, a slave from the land of Canaan languishing in prison – that should have been the end of his career. And then, all of a sudden, he becomes ruler over all of Mitzrayim.

All of a sudden, he had everything! The greatest joy – kavod, glory, fame. They gave him an aristocratic Egyptian wife too, you know. And as he rode through the street in his chariot, footmen ran ahead and shouted, “Avreich.” Avreich means “Kneel.” It was a command, “Kneel!” As the chariot of Yosef passed by everybody had to bow down. Imagine – Yosef is coming by and all the Egyptians are dropping to their knees. Such a story is almost unbelievable – there’s no equal in all the romances of the world.

Test of Acceptance

The truth is that this should have been the end of Yosef – he should have been lost forever. Because at that moment it should have gone to his head – he should have fallen in love with Mitzrayim (Egypt). I don’t know if any one of us would have been oimed b’nisayon. We would love Mitzrayim! We would become so involved in it – we’d forget all about our past. Who cares about Eretz Canaan, about his brothers – even his father. They were just a nomadic tribe, simple shepherds, and now he was dealing with an advanced society. He should have forgotten all about them.

What happened to the Jews who came from Europe to America? So many got lost – entire families, hundreds of thousands of Jews, went lost forever when they came to America. In Europe, the goyim used to spit on the Jews and now these Jews came to a new country, America, where nobody spat on you – not much anyhow.

A Visit To America

When I was in Slabodka, someone came back from visiting America, and he told me a story. He said it b’hispaylus – he was so excited! He said he was in America riding the subway and he got lost; he didn’t know where to go. So a policeman came over and said, “What’s the matter?” But my friend didn’t know any English. So this policeman went away and brought back a Jewish policeman. And my friend was able to speak with him in Yiddish and the Jewish policeman took him and helped him find his way.

“America, ooh wah!” he said. “What a wonderful country it is! They have full rights in America – you can be an American!” He even described the flashing lights of the stores that lit up the night. He was in love with it – you could see his eyes sparkle when he spoke about that.

But Yosef HaTzaddik had a million times more happiness. He should have fallen for it; he should have kissed the earth of Egypt. Some Jews did that. When some Jews came to America, they kissed the earth of America – a free country!

But Yosef didn’t kiss any earth. Yosef remained Yosef. יוֹסֵף הוּא הַשַּׁלִּיט (Bereishis 42:6). הוּא means, he was the same as before. הוּא בְּצִדְקוֹ מִתְּחִלָּתוֹ וְעַד סוֹפוֹ. Yosef was still a son of Yisroel – he didn’t change at all! He wasn’t deceived. He knew that there was nothing in the world greater than to be a son of Yaakov, a ben Yisroel, and that to admire any other culture, any other way of life, was just foolishness – it’s all hevel varik.

Part II. Lost Pride

The Jews Loved Germany

Now, this story is told to us in the Torah not merely for itself. It’s written to be a model, a lesson, so that a Jew should know never to fall in love with anyplace, with any gentile culture. If you ignore the model that our great men set down for us, and instead walk in the footsteps of the Misyavnim, that romance with ‘your’ country eventually turns out to be a disappointment.

The Jews in Germany fell in love with the Germans – as much as the Misyavnim fell in love with the Greeks, that’s what happened in Germany. You must know that Germany before Hitler was a very fine country. I was in Germany just before Hitler took over. I remember I was riding in a train and I wanted to pick up my suitcase and put it on the rack. A well dressed German, a professor, came over to me and without my asking, he picked up my suitcase for me. He was much older than me but no matter. “They’re so polite these Germans,” I thought. He picked up my suitcase and put it on the rack.

When I was in Europe, all the Jews loved Germany. They traveled to Germany, even yeshiva boys sometimes. In Slabodka there was a fine ilui, a yeshiva man, that left the yeshiva and went to Germany and he became a PhD, a doctor. In Germany everyone could receive an education! Everyone had full rights! Everyone was law abiding! You couldn’t do anything against the law in Germany – no violence in Germany. It was a wonderful country – every kind of progress and modernization. It was clean too. The streets were perfectly clean – you couldn’t throw a piece of paper on the floor. In America, you throw paper in the streets. You couldn’t do that in Germany.

Forsaking The Faith Of Moses

Germany was a model country and the Jews in Germany fell in love with Germany. They gave their hearts to Germany. At first they said, “We’re loyal Jews. We’re Germans of the faith of Moses.” At least that much they said at the beginning; but later they became Germans without the faith of Moses. They loved Germany so much – more than they loved the Am Yisroel.

Their hearts were so invested in everything German that even when the trouble began, they thought it was just a small hiccup – a short hiccup of history – and that one day they would be able to mix with the goyim again. And when the rabbonim would tell them that it’s all a mistake, it’s all sheker v’kazav, they wouldn’t hear it. They didn’t want to learn the lesson.

Finally they learned. Oh yes, they learned! In the concentration camps the well-dressed German gave good lessons on gentile culture. Hakodosh Boruch Hu sent somebody, a good rebbe whose lessons they couldn’t ignore. Hitler came and showed them what a German is and the whole romance exploded in the flames of the crematorium.

“Don’t make any mistake about it,” Hashem was telling us. “It’s all shav v’sheker!” Like the medrash says: Eisav – what does Eisav mean? הוֹי שָׁוְא – How false he is! How false is the gentile culture! How false are their ideals and attitudes! How false they themselves are! And not only Germany – everywhere!

Holocaust of Assimilation

Most of the Jews who came to America went lost like the Misyavnim. They were deceived by the great Yetzer Hara that comes along in every generation: “Look,” said the Yetzer Hara, “Russia is no good. We know Russians are no good.” That they learned already. Russians are pogrom shikkers, anti-Semites, they knew that. But America’s a different kind of place. It’s wonderful in America. We’re going to fall in love with America.”

Not only here. How many became the victims of England? How many Jews got lost in Canada? And in Paris, Jews got lost. They fell in love! France Jews, they were Frenchmen. Yes, we belong to the Israelite religion, but we’re Frenchmen; and they went lost.

Insular Society

When the Jew insulates himself from the outside world, when he remains in his ghetto, he remains strong and healthy. Because what does he care what the goyim are saying! In fact, when we were in the ghetto, we didn’t even have the opportunity to hear what they were saying. When the Pope, or Martin Luther, or any of the bishops preached slanders against us, we didn’t even hear the accusations. All that the Jews saw were the end results – when their holidays came, the inflamed mobs poured out of the churches with their holy zeal to kill Jews – that’s when the Jews found out that something was wrong. But the Jew didn’t hear the sermon and so he didn’t have any cause to have an inferiority complex; he had a cause to be afraid, that’s all.

People don’t understand that. What the goy thought didn’t mean a thing to the proud Jew! You know, the old time Jew in the ghetto when he walked out of the ghetto, he walked with his head down. If he picked up his head, the gentile would yell at him, “What are you looking at you dirty Jew?!” He could get hit for that. You had to walk with your head down when you were outside the ghetto. And if a tough goy was coming by, you had to get off the sidewalk because he could demand that you move over for him. And if you wouldn’t move over he’d push you off.

But does that mean that the Jew was broken from this? No, not at all! The Jew knew that he was a prince! Only that now, he left his palace, he left the ghetto, and he was walking among animals. You can’t expect, let’s say, that dogs and squirrels should be polite. They bite, what could you do?! Some bark, some bite, so you have to be careful and watch out for them. The proud Jew learned how to handle that.

And when he got back to the ghetto his head was up; he was back in the palace, a prince among princes. He knew that outside was a savage world and here, inside, was the civilized world – and he couldn’t be prouder to be a ben Yisroel!

Self-Hating Jews

But once the Jew began to have contact with the gentile world, to mingle with them, that situation didn’t continue any longer because now the insulation was removed. And once the insulation is taken away, everything begins to weaken. When the Jews began to cozy up to the gentile culture and to hear all the attitudes of the goyim, that’s when the self-respect of the Jew began to weaken because now he was opening
The gentile opinion begins to cause the Jew to despise himself. And after a while the Jews become almost hopelessly poisoned with self hate. Sometimes even more than the gentile hates the Jew, the Jew hates the Jews.
himself up to the ideals and attitudes of the gentiles. Once the Jew began to listen to what the gentile said – and he listened well and nodded his head because he wanted to be accepted – so the opinions of the gentiles began to enter. From now on the Jew began to hear what the gentiles said and what gentiles wrote and he became sensitive to it. The gentile opinion began to cause the Jew to despise himself.

And after a while the Jews became almost hopelessly poisoned with self hate. Sometimes even more than the gentile hates the Jew, the Jew hates the Jews. Why is that? Because the gentile has other things to think about – he doesn’t think about Jews day and night. He has work to do, and he has to drink, other pastimes too he has; he’s a busy man. But the Jew who has now learned gentile attitudes is living with himself always – he can’t escape it and so he learns to despise himself, to hate his own people.

And in some cases with a violent hatred. That’s why the Jewish radicals – today, just like in the time of Hanukkah – are the most dangerous. Right now in Paris there are riots – this whole week there were leftist riots in favor of the Arab terrorists. And who are the main leaders? Jews! Now, how did it turn out that we don’t find Arabs leading groups of other Arabs in defense of the Jewish people? Why is that we only have Jews who are leading other Jews in defense of terrorists whose only desire is to murder other Jews? The answer is that Jewish self hate develops from contact with the gentiles. The more a Jew listens to gentile ideas the more he learns to hate his people.

Slander the Orthodox

I was once walking in the street one night. I was coming back from the yeshiva and coming towards me was a woman with her daughter. She was speaking Yiddish to her daughter and she said aloud so that I should hear, “Un de ergste ganavim zenen di frumme” – the frum are the worst thieves. That’s the Torah they taught the children – the worst crooks are the orthodox.

I remember those days – if you wore even a little beard, you were a meshugener. I was standing once, with a little beard, not like this – a much smaller beard. I was waiting for the trolley and a man across the street was looking at me. Finally he couldn’t contain his anger any longer and he shouted to me from across the street: “Meshugener!” he shouted. Everyone knew straight away that the Orthodox Jews are no good, that’s all. They’re all crooks. They’re fakers and meshugeners.

That’s the torah that the world teaches. The Orthodox are no good! In Eretz Yisroel the newspapers are saying it every day. The leaders of the State of Israel have been poisoned through and through. Golda Meir and Ben-Gurion, Huldai, Meretz all of them, want to break from the Jewish past and create something entirely new. In their eyes the Jew is something despised, something to be hated. They hate anything Jewish and the newspapers are teaching this new Israeli torah. That’s why so many Israelis today - if you meet them on the buses there or when they come to visit here – they’re not proud to be Jews. They’re Israelis! That’s a new thing – nothing to do with Judaism. They want to disassociate themselves from the ancient Jew, from the Jewish people.

Boro Park and Williamsburg

And in America it’s been picked up now and it’s repeated here too. One man wrote in the newspaper that he never went to Brooklyn! He was so proud of not going to Brooklyn. “The Orthodox are smelly,” he said. And the Jewish people read the newspapers and it seeps in – it seeps in!

Even if you’re a yeshiva man, as long as you’re living among the gentiles, so you can’t help but being poisoned by the attitudes of despising the truly Jewish ideals. That’s why you see observant Jews criticizing the frum Jews. A woman from Virginia, an observant woman, she visited Boro Park and now she is going back to Virginia, so she calls me on the telephone and she says to me, “Boro Park is full of people who live on programs and they deceive the government.” I said, “You know what you are saying? You are doing a terrible crime! You are talking about the best people in America!” Except for the Jews of Williamsburg – those Jews are even better. But the Boro Park people are very holy people; you walk by blocks and blocks, all shomrei mitzvos. Every house is a beis hamikdash of kedusha. That’s how you speak about our best people?!

The Honest People

It’s an upside down world! The world looks at resha’im, perpetrators of evil, with a kindly attitude. On reshoim, the world says they are polite, they are friendly, and on tzaddikim they say, they don’t have good manners. They are dishonest. It’s all sheker! The truth is that many of the non frum are resha’im – you don’t have to be a murderer to be wicked. I watch some of the resha’im every day on the street on Kings Highway. They go by the fruit stand and they take apricots off the fruit stand and they eat them. They walk away without paying. They eat peanuts, grapes. Every day I see it. The non-frum Jews don’t have any inhibitions. No Orthodox Jew does such a thing.

“Oh no,” they say, “The gentiles have the yosher. Only the Orthodox have no yosher. Everybody knows that frum are dishonest” – ad kan divrei yetzer hara – those are all words of the evil inclination.

The Yetzer Hora is very busy in this world. There’s a malach called the Yetzer Hora and his job is to mislead people. And one of his biggest functions is to make Jews dislike themselves – one of the biggest successes of the Yetzer Hora is to cause Jews to think less of themselves than they should.