Arnold, writing in his celebrated work Culture and Anarchy, suggests
that Hebraism and Hellenism are the two essential philosophies of life between
which civilized man must choose. Hanukkah is the tale of the clash between
these two world visions. Thus, in the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah becomes
the time of year when we try to relocate our spiritual direction on the
road between Athens and Jerusalem.
Hellenist, the harmonious and balanced personality is the ideal. However,
Hellenistic harmony comes from a place of detachment. Plato's ideal is to
"become a spectator to all time and existence," while the basic
Hebraic posture is passionate involvement in the realness of life. The Hellenist
seeks eternity; he cannot find it in the world of particulars, which are
here today and gone tomorrow. So he searches in the realm of essences, universals,
and principles of logic, in whose unchanging shadow, he feels the breath
of eternity. For the Hellenist, theory is always more important than application,
thinking is higher and more pure than doing.
Jew there is no greater sin than the sin of detachment. The ideal is the
full embrace of the concreteness of being. God is in the details. God is
in the ferment of our lives. Jewish wisdom-masters are relatively unconcerned
with grand systems and elegant structures of logic; their vision is almost
always of the particular individual and his or her choices. For the Jew,
eternity resides in the human encounter with the moment. God, the source
of the eternal, is revealed in the infinite depths of the human personality
no less than in the mathematical theorems of Pythagoras. The Hebraic worldview
shapes the way we understand and live our lives in at least four important
Jewish God, unlike that of the Hellenist, is personal and cares deeply
about all of His creatures. The Talmud describes God who is attendant
and empathetic to the joy and pain of his creatures, a God who cares.
Our God knows our name. The mandate of Hebraic man is imitatio
dei, to be like God. To be like God is about moral commitment
to the betterment of our world and deep existential empathy with all
who suffer. To be like God is to have a passionate social vision,
which addresses all facets of humanity. It is to be concerned, engaged
the Hellenist, God is a force in the universe, an unmoved mover. The
notion of a God who cries is blasphemous to the Hellenist. The notion
of a God who doesn't cry is blasphemous to the Jew.
Hellenist seeks to prove via rational demonstration that his God exists,
while the Jew longs for intimacy with God.
function of this intimacy, the Jew on occasion even challenges God. Abraham
becomes the first Jew by challenging the justice of God's intended destruction
of Sodom and Gomorah. The Jew, writes Elie Wiesel, can be angry and even
shout at God, but can never ignore God. Such is the nature of intimacy.
The Hellenist however, must shape his God to be beyond taking any responsibility
for the world. For the Hellenist to contemplate is to embrace. For the Jew
to struggle is to embrace.
arguing against balance and stability, I would suggest that for the Jew, balance
and stability are values which are subservient to moral passion, reality,
and empathy. For the Jew to realize the Divine within is to be always rising
and becoming. And to become one must risk falling, failing, and losing one's
place. Change by definition involves instability: Balance needs to be disrupted
when it fronts as an excuse for fear of growth and change.
Athens was a great city,
but we are children of Jerusalem. Jewish eternity resides in the infinite
value and holiness of our personal story and our potential for change.
Naom Zion & Barbara Spectre, eds., A Different Light: The Big Book
of Hanukkah, Copyright © 2000 by Noam
Zion (New York: Devora Publishing Co.; Jeruasalem: The Shalom Hartman
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