President Trump, Jerusalem, Chanukah
“Why are people in an uproar and the nations saying things that are not true? The rulers of the earth take their stand and their leaders conspire secretly… against Hashem and His anointed one.” These are the opening lines of Psalms, Chapter 2. They resonate today as much as they did in the time that King David first composed them. The world’s reaction to President Trump’s announcement, to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to relocate the American embassy there, is only the most current manifestation of Psalm 2. What causes this almost universal negative reaction by the leaders and peoples of the world?
An answer to this question lies, I believe, in understanding the celebration of Chanukah. In contradistinction to Purim, Chanukah celebrates the survival of the Jewish religion and its unique way of life. The insert to our prayers during the 8 days of Chanukah, “Al HaNisim,” is significantly different from the version of “Al HaNisim,” added on Purim. Both celebrate a miracle for the Jewish people but the insert for Chanukah specifically mentions the participation of the Hasmonean priests and the Jewish people in the war. Glaringly absent in the insert for Purim is any mention of Mordecai and Esther. Why this difference?
Rabbi Soloveitchik answers this question by distinguishing between a miracle done to preserve the physical existence of the Jewish people and a miracle done to insure the continued existence of the religion, our spiritual existence. Thus for example, our greatest leader Moshe, is mentioned only parenthetically in the Haggadah. The physical redemption of the Jewish people is attributable exclusively to God. And even though the people did play a part in defeating Haman and his allies, on Purim Mordecai and Esther are not mentioned in the tefilah. Thanks is only given to God.
However, when the spiritual essence of the Jewish people is threatened, when the menace is of a spiritual nature, Rabb Soloveitchik points out that the initiative belongs to man. Then God joins forces in battle with man and shares the gratitude with him as well. When the Hasmoneans and followers achieved the military victory of liberating Jerusalem, they enjoyed a brief respite from war. They used that opportunity and ran immediately to the Temple Mount and entered the Holy Temple. Their concern and chief aim was the restoration of the Temple, the spiritual center of the Jewish religion.
The verse כי מציון תצא תורה ודבר ה’ מירושלים “From Zion will the Torah come forth and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem” refers to the Sanhedrin HaGadol, the Supreme Court of the Jewish religion, whose responsibility was the institution of Jewish law regulating the proper conduct for every aspect of Jewish life. They also directed everything that went on within the Temple. They were the repository and guarantors of the spiritual existence of Judaism. The very word Chanukah is a contraction of the Hebrew “Chanu” “Kaw,” חנו כה, “they rested on the 25th (day of Kislev).” On that day the people rested from battle but ran to cleanse the spiritual center of their existence.
Today, it is probably fair to say that well over 90% of the world knows that Jerusalem is not only the political center of Israel but deep down in their souls they know Jerusalem is also the spiritual capital of Judaism. Followers of the various Christian faiths as well as those of the various Moslem sects accept that there is an “Old Testament.” That “Old Testament” makes clear reference to Jerusalem and the Holy Temples, First and Second, both of which existed long before the advent of either Christianity or Islam. The non-Jewish world knows that Jerusalem is the spiritual capital of the Jewish people even more than it is seat of their government. It is for this reason that Jerusalem and the Temple Mount are the prize possessions of our current enemies as well as all of our past adversaries since the time of King David.
Denying Israelis and the Jewish people recognition of their rightful capital city represents dominance over the nation of Israel by the other leaders of the world. More than politically, theologically is signifies that Judaism has been over thrown. The religion of Judaism is bankrupt and at long last has finally been vanquished. Hence any form of recognition of Jerusalem or the Temple stirs in many this deep resentment that lies just beneath the surface of their existence. Today this resentment hides behind a political veil. The audacity of the American president to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Thank God for one true ally amongst the nations of the world.
It is clear from today’s loud and unified, world response and chorus that commenced immediately after President Trump’s bold announcement signaling American’s embassy move to Jerusalem, that against whom are they gathering? Against whom are they talking foolishness? Against whom do they conspire?… ”Against Hashem and against His anointed.” What did President Trump say? “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and the Jewish people. We, the United States, are just recognizing that reality.”
Chanukah represents the reality of God’s special relationship with the Jewish people. It represents the eternal triumph in the fight for the existence of Judaism, albeit through human effort and sacrifice coupled together with Divine assistance. The insert to our prayers on Chanukah makes clear that when we initiate the fight for the spiritual existence of Judaism, God joins our ranks. The battle may not always be armed conflict. The battle may take the form of needed support, dedication and hard work to insure the survival of Jewish day schools, for the right to the kosher slaughter of animals, for the right to practice ritual circumcision, for the right not to work on Shabbat, and the list goes on.
Through this annual celebration of Chanukah let us renew our commitment to the spiritual survival of Judaism, to continue the battle for its spiritual existence if and when it is necessary, but most of all to commit our lives daily to follow its eternal tenants.
Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach
Rabbi Robert Kaplan