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CHANUKAH: THE ORIGIN STORY 

by Rabbi Ari Bensoussan Director, Chazak LA

It all began with a man who was known to the world as being ‘The Great’. Alexander the Great. Historically Alexander the Great was known for his world conquering endeavor and the abrupt end to his conquest with his early and sudden death in his early 30’s. The Talmud tells us of an amazing occurrence that happened when Alexander fell to his knees and prostrated himself in front of the Kohen Gadol.

Upon rising from this shocking act of humility that was so out of character of Alexander the Great he explained.

In all my wars that I have waged and won, I saw a vision of you, the High Priest, wearing your vestments, in the sky, waging and winning the wars for me. For this I humble the Great advanced his army on Jerusalem. The Jews were slandered by the Cuthites to Alexander, their scathing words dripping with an unbridled hate for those Temple-myself before you. ‘We pray for your victory, my dear Alexander,’ replied Shimon Hatzadik.

End story. True, the post script of this dwelling Hebrews who prayed to an outdated G-d and detested the teachings of Aristotle, which, Alexander, his student, had been spreading.

It was daybreak when the following scene occurred.

Alexander the Great, the commander in chief of tens of thousands of soldiers, sat valiantly on his magnificent horse atop a mountain with sleepy Jerusalem beneath in view.

A retinue of Jews emerged from the city walls to come meet Alexander, this small band of Hebrews were led by their leader and high priest, adorned in the vestments of the eight biblical garments worn for temple service, Shimon Hatzadik, Kohen Gadol.

Upon seeing Shimon Hatzadik wearing these eight clothes and adornments, the Talmud relates that Alexander the Great immediately jumped to the narrative is that Alexander was infuriated with the Cuthites who slandered the Jews and he decimated them. But the point we need to extrapolate from this incredible tale is a simple observation.

Why in fact did Alexander see a vision of the High Priest fighting his battles?

What was the true purpose behind this cryptic answer given by Shimon Hatzadik?

Lying within these questions and answers is the true reality in what we celebrate on Chanukah.

Allow me to take a step even further back into history to shed light on so much that is hidden.

We find ourselves right after the destruction of the First Temple. 

The Talmud relates an interesting back and forth between the men of the Great Assembly and Heaven, as it were. They cry to our Heavenly Father beseeching Him to forfeit the drive that man has toward idol worship, for the challenge is to hard for them.

Incredibly, Heaven concurs.

A fiery ball is sent down from Heaven to earth in the shape of a lion cub, this being was the embodiment of idol worship incarnate. They quickly grab at it whilst it tries to run away, they tear off some of its fur and it yells so loud it could be heard from four hundred parsot away. They finally manage to capture the beast, and they bind it with the ineffable name and bury it. The Talmud relates that from that moment on the drive and lust for idol worship was no more.

Two seemingly unrelated stories.

But why did they ask for the evil inclination of idol worship to cease? More incredibly, why did Heaven agree?

Hashem creates this world with an even balance of good and evil so that we are challenged to choose perfection over deficiency and earn our eternal reward. During the times that the First Temple stood, the rabbis teach us that they had open miracles happening all the time in and around the temple. If so, how did they ever have a free will choice to earn eternity if G-d was so to speak staring them in the face?

The answer is that the even balance of the challenge had as much potency as open miracles to even out the playing field. That was idol worship. It too can perform miracles, even bring the dead back to life.

Once the temple was destroyed however, the open miracles ended, as such, the rabbis demanded from Heaven that the idol worship was now too strong of an unchallenged opponent and needed to be destroyed. Heaven agreed.

But now they are left with a void, what now will be their challenge to earn their Olam Habah?

Enter Alexander the Great.

Alexander was a student of the teaching of Aristotle, that the world was created for man and it is he who is the all-powerful, all-knowing creature in all the universe. G-d is out, man is in. Shimon Hatzadik prayed for Alexander to win in all his battles so as to be able to spread his teachings the world over. Why?

Because his teachings are the new evil in this world. That is our challenge in order to earn. Shimon Hatzadik recognized this as a necessary outcome and prayed for it to succeed. We see from here the underlying secret to all of Chanukah.

The Greeks, who were the eventual outcome of Alexander, would teach and preach their ways the world over. Their teachings have molded our society today as well.

There is no G-d. They see it as a fact, we see it as our challenge. To see Hashem in all the darkness. Although He may be hiding and open miracles are a thing of the past, the light of Chanukah is meant to shed light on the darkness of doubt, which is our greatest challenge and ultimately our greatest reward.