Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 12 December 2015 / 30 Kislev 5776

A People of Purity

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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“When the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah…”

There is a general principle that all things created by G-d contain within them the ability to teach us something. The lessons are not limited to one thing. Rather, as endless as is G-d’s wisdom, so too are the lessons we continue to draw out from the wonderful creations G-d has placed before us. Accordingly, even something as simple as a name has deep meaning.

What’s In a Name?

There is a famous saying, “Misery loves company.” And so the Greeks, uninterested in a portion in G-d’s Torah, sought to persuade the Jewish People to abandon a life of holiness and join them in the pursuit of vanity and self-worship.

The Hebrew spelling for Greece is Yavan, spelled with a yud, vav and (“final”) nun like this (יון). As can be detected from the spelling above, each of the letters that make up the name Yavan descend in a downward position in greater progression. Yud, the first letter of their name represents wisdom; the second letter, vav, represents action. Thus we see the essence of what the Greeks were all about. They took the intellect that G-d bestowed upon them to use in an evil and forbidden manner, resulting in the final letter nun, which equals the numerical value of fifty. They attach themselves to the fifty gates of impurity through their thoughts and actions, descending to the lowest forms of behavior.

The Nation of Israel, on the other hand, was created to be a “holy nation and kingdom of priests”. What are the Jews about? Let us start with where our name comes from. “Jew”, Yehudi, is from the name Yehudah, spelled yud, hei, vav, dalet, hei (יהודה). These letters make up the Tetragrammaton, the holiest of the Divine names, with the addition of the letter dalet, which represents the idea of humility (dal is Hebrew for poor or humble). A Jew must humble himself before G-d, accepting the yoke of Heaven through the fulfillment of both the positive and negative commands of the Torah. Through our Divine service we establish an eternal bond with G-d, transcending the limitations of the mundane world, to ascend to the higher spiritual realms above, and in so doing we connect to the fifty gates of holiness.

Like day and night, light and darkness, the Greeks, and all those that continue to follow in their ways, fulfill the verse in Kohellet 2:14, “The fool walks in darkness.” In contrast to them, the Jewish People fulfill the verse in Mishlei 6:23, “For the (Divine) command is a candle, and the Torah is light.” As we light our Chanukah candles this year may we merit walking in the light of the first days of creation, in the era of redemption, speedily, in our days.

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