Monday, December 22, 2008

Not Afraid to be Unique

Peled said that Israelis want to celebrate Christmas because they do not want to feel culturally isolated from the rest of the world.

"Celebrating only Hanukka set us apart, makes us different. People don't want to feel that way. They want to be part of world," she said.

With these words, Tamir Peled, has signed the death warrant of the Jewish people. Explaining the increasing visibility of Christmas decorations in certain places in Israel, Peled says that many Israelis don't want to be different. They feel that Chanukkah sets them apart, something that they are uncomfortable with. This desire to fit in, to be alike the nations, is the slow end of the Jews.

The Greeks were one of the most tolerant and universal-minded peoples in the ancient world. It is doubtful that they oppressed or persecuted any other people besides the Jews. How did a people known for its openness and love of philosophy come to commit so many atrocities against the Jews? It is hard to understand how the people that gave the world democracy, Plato and Aristotle, were the same ones as those who murdered Chana's 7 sons before her eyes for not bowing to an idol, or martyred the saintly Rabbi Eliezer for refusing to eat pork.

Alexander the Great and his Hellenistic successors wanted to unite the world under Greek culture and philosophy. The ancient pagans were the ultimate in relativism as they syncretized gods and beliefs with great ease. The Greeks adopted the gods of the nations that they conquered and in return gave them their Pantheon. The only people who refused to do this were the Jews. The Jews insisted on circumcising themselves, alone of all the ancients, did not eat the same food as non-Jews and did not share in any of their customs. The Greeks were outraged when they discovered that the Jewish Temple contained no idol or statue. They forbade the circumcision, the mark of the covenant between the Jews and G-d. They decreed that anyone caught studying Torah, the divine laws, observing the Shabbat, the holy day, or keeping kosher was to be put to death. They outlawed the Sanhedrin's proclamation of the New Month, the obligation which gave the Jewish people mastery over time.

The Greeks did not wish to eradicate the Jews physically, nor did they wish to destroy them. Rather, the Greeks wanted to put an end to the Torah, G-d's laws which set the Jewish people apart. They desecrated the Temple, and erected a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies. They built giant sports arenas and theaters in Jerusalem and the countryside to try and entice the Jews into the Greek culture. In fact, many of the rich and elite became known as Hellenizers because of their affinity for the Greek culture. The Greeks polluted all of the oil in the Temple, reserved for kindling the Golden Menorah, symbolic of their desire to stamp out the Torah and its light.

Oil characterized the Jewish people because just as oil does not mix with other liquids, so too do the Jews not mix with other nations. Just as oil always rises to the top, Jews always rise above the mundaneness and triviality of the world, and above the attempts of those who wish to wipe them out. The prophet Bilaam called the Jews "a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations." (Numbers 23:9) The essence of the Jewish people is to be separate, to be distinct and to be holy. The Uniqueness of the Divine is paralleled by the uniqueness of the Jewish people, G-d's chosen vessel through which to reveal His Oneness and Majesty. G-d chose the nation of Israel to bring consciousness of G-d to the entire world, and to spread the light of Torah.

Many Jews unfortunately do not want to be alone. They hate their Jewishness, their choseness and distinct-ness with a passion. Deep down, they are afraid of being unique. These Jews want desperately to be accepted. Little do they realize that it is their Jewish destiny to be different. Our Father Avraham was called the 'Ivri' because he stood on one ever, side, while the entire world stood on the other. In a society that worshipped the forces of nature and paid homage to tyrants, Avraham had the courage to stand apart.

Our Sages tell us that Israel was redeemed from Egypt by virtue of the fact that they retained their identity. The Jews did not change their Hebrew names, adapt their dress to meet Egyptian fashion and spoke only their Hebrew tongue. Throughout the ages, the Jews resisted assimilation and were therefore able to outlast any other nation.

When Jews wish to become like the other nations, it is the beginning of the end. As G-d says: "If you sever yourselves from the other peoples, then you belong to me; but if not, then you belong to Nebuchadnezzar and his fellows." (Midrash, Sifra 93d) In the United States, Judaism is disappearing rapidly in a Silent Holocaust of assimilation, with a 50% assimilation rate. According to research, non-Orthodox Jewry will be largely extinct within the span of 3 generations if the current trend prevails. In Israel, the absurd political situation is a symptom of people of little faith desiring to be accepted by the world. The Israeli government and a large segment of the population are willing to sacrifice land, retreat, withdraw and compromise, all to be accepted by a world that stood silently as European Jewry chocked and burnt in the gas chambers and ovens. Such a government of lemmings is leading the nation of Israel back into the ghettos of exile.

The Jewish nation did not survive 2000 years of exile in order to simply be a cultural club. We are told that G-d created the world for the sake of Israel. In order for G-d's Truth to be revealed to the world, He needs a chosen people dwelling in a holy land living by divine laws. Our ancestors rose up against the Greeks so that they should be able to keep the Torah freely, and not be overwhelmed by Greek cultural influence. "Ye are My witnesses, saith the LORD, and My servant whom I have chosen; that ye may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He; before Me there was no God formed, neither shall any be after Me." (Isaiah 43:10) That is our mission, our calling. Tamir Peled's words, which echo those of the Hellenizers before him, are a death sentence to the Jewish nation.

This Chanukkah, let us discover what makes us unique and may we spread the light of Torah around the world. May G-d illuminate the darkness that clouds of lives, speedily in our days.

Cross-posted from For Zion's Sake

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Don't Let the Light Go Out

Don't let the light go out. This light has seen mighty empires comes and go. It saw the Greece rise up and conquer world, only to fade away. This light saw the Roman empire grown and collapse. It saw mighty rulers, fearless generals and mighty warriors disappear, without a trace. Yet the light remains.

Don't let the light go out. This light overcame the forces of Hellenism and hedonism. It shone through the darkness of immorality and vanity. It gave guidance and meaning to thousands of generations of Jews who resisted assimilation, who refused to forsake their Torah and their G-d. This light illuminated the secularism that blinded many and sought to lead the Jewish people astray. Philosophies, ideologies and 'isms' are relegated to the dustbin of history, yet the light remains.

Don't let the light go out. It was tended and nurtured lovingly by Jews throughout the ages, often at the risk of their lives. It was protected and treasured despite pain, despite poverty, despite hardship and persecution. Downtrodden, humiliated and weak, the light gave us strength. When there was no hope, the light promised us a better future.

Don't let the light go out. It shone brightly in Morocco and Poland, in Baghdad and Paris. It illuminated the streets of Minsk and Pinsk, Istanbul and Fez, Shanghai and Rome. Our enemies could not extinguish it. Withstanding the cross and the crescent, crusaders and mujahadeen, the light still burns. Under the windows of popes and kings, emperors and sultans, shas and dukes, the light proclaimed that we were still here.

Don't let the light go out. It was lit hidden in cellars, for fear of the Inquisitors racks. It was lit in ghettos and camps, in the shadow of the gas chambers and crematorium. It was lit in the freezing gulag's, the punishment for wishing to return home. It burnt long after Crusaders and Almohads, revolutionaries and fascists, Nazis and Communists, disappeared from the earth and will burn long after the suicide bomber, "holy warrior" and jihadist terrorist. For the miracles performed for us in those days, in this time.

Don't let the light go out. The light that was kindled at the rededication of the Second Temple, and will be kindled at the dedication of the Third Temple, may it be soon. The light that has returned home after two thousands years of exile, the light that blossoms in its holy land. The light that was shot out in Mumbai, massacred on the streets on Jerusalem, in pizzerias and cafes, synagogues and study halls. The light that is threatened by assimilation and ignorance. The light that has seen history, yet still shines. Don't let the light go out.

Chag Chanukkah Sameach!

Cross-posted from For Zion's Sake

Monday, December 15, 2008

Paganism and Christmas

In the West, no holiday is as beloved as Christmas. As soon as Thanksgiving in the United States is over, malls, newspapers, radio and TV are inundated with Christmas decorations. Red and green, Christmas lights, Santa surrounded with his elves. The mad holiday rush begins as the clock ticks down to the "holy night".

In today's age of cultural equivalence, holidays are often shorn of their meanings. However, I feel that it is important to understand the significance of the symbols associated with the holiday. To many Christians, Christmas represents the birth of their saviour and is the most important day on the calendar for them. Church attendance is highest on Christmas (and Easter). To those seeking a way to get closer to G-d, it is necessary to learn about the pagan roots of Christmas.

Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December, not due to any particular historical event, but rather because it was the day when the ancient pagans worshipped the rebirth of the sun. On the darkest day of the year, the winter solstice, the Romans would commemorate the advent of their saviour demigod, Mithras. Born to a virgin in a cave, Mithras brought eternal life to his followers. As an inscription on a Mithraic temple in Rome said: "Thou hast saved the many through the shedding of the eternal blood". The Catholic Church, in the 4th century, wanted to eclipse the pagan festivities of Mithras by establishing the day as the birth of their own saviour man-god. In order to introduce Christianity to the pagan world, Church leaders felt it necessary to celebrate Christmas on the winter solstice. The day of the sun's rebirth easily and smoothly became the day of the son's birth. (Christmas' pagan roots were well known. The early colonists opposed the celebration of Christmas in America. It was even banned by colonial law in Massachusetts.) To make pagans feel more comfortable in their new faith, many pagan elements were incorporated into early Christianity.

The Christmas tree originated in ancient Germanic history. Germanic tribes lit trees (Tannenbaum) and celebrated the feast of light (Lichtfest) around the shortest day of the year, December 21. During the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, the people decorated their homes with evergreen clippings and hung metals and decorations from trees in honour of their god, Bacchus.

Christians, G-d specifically commands against this pagan practice:

Jeremiah 10:2
Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. 3 For the customs of the people [are] vain: for [one] cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. 4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

Mistletoe and holy were used by the Druids to announce the coming of winter. In Scandinavian countries, mistletoe represented peace and harmony. It was associated with the goddess of love, Frigga, which is the origin of kissing beneath the mistletoe. The early church even banned the use of mistletoe because of its pagan connotations.

As a Christian site says:

"December 25th was celebrated by the Pagan sun-worshippers of Mithraism as the "birthday of the invincible sun," because on that day the sun began its return to the northern skies "the winter solstice." And so, the sun and the Son, have become a deliberate Pagan mix. Tammuz, the Babylonian Pagan sun deity, was also the first counterfeit savior… December 25th was also the date of the Pagan Brumalia (winter) festival in Rome. It was preceded by the Saturnalia festival Dec. 17-24 - in honor of the Roman god Saturn, as a period of unrestrained merriment in celebration of the winter solstice. The Saturnalia and Brumalia festivals were so popular among the heathen and so deeply entrenched in their customs, that rather than attempt to reform the Pagan populous the Roman Church, the Emperor Constantine, chose instead to absorb their festivities into the Constantine Roman Catholic Church."

There are those Evangelical and Messianic Christians who seek to rehabilitate Christmas of its pagan origins and instead celebrate the birth of Jesus on Sukkot. What they do not understand is that besides the blatant pagan symbols of the Christmas tree and elves, the very concept of a man becoming god and dying for the sins of humanity is contrary to the Torah. Such a belief is pagan to the core and the ancient world was full of similar saviour gods such as Mithras, Osiris, Dionysus and Attis. These beliefs are contrary to G-d's Torah and are idolatrous. G-d repeatedly says that He is not a man (Numbers 23:19, Hosea 11:9, I Samuel 15:29), that human sacrifice is abominable before Him and that no one can die for another's sins.

To all of my gentile readers, instead of placing your trust in meaninglessness and vanity, return to the Almighty Source. Pagan idols and manmade saviours are empty and have no power. Rid yourselves of idolatrous rites and beliefs and commit yourselves to the 7 Noahide Laws. Why worship the "son of man", emptiness and futility, when you can worship G-d Himself? Should you not observe the 7 Laws of the Sons of Noah, incumbent upon all Gentiles, whom G-d has created and loves, and wishes to get closer to?

To all of my readers, Jews and non-Jews, I wish a very happy holiday season. May the light of Torah overcome and destroy all the impurities of idolatry and may we illuminate the darkness that plagues our world, speedily in our days.