Haftarah Parashat Mikkets
Shabbat Rosh Hodesh
December 8, 2018 | 30 Kislev 5779
Hanukkah is known as a holiday which champions the victory of Judaism’s unique particular vision and way of life over the Greeks and their universal vision which sought to eradicate Jewish distinctiveness. The message of the opening prophecy of this week’s special haftarah for Shabbat Hanukkah seems at odds with this message: “And many people will join themselves to the Lord on that day [messianic times] and shall be My people and I [God] will dwell in your midst” (2:15) How does this universal vision fit in with Hanukkah’s championing of Jewish particularism?
Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner (20th century US), Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Chaim Berlin and author of the monumental work Pahad Yitzhak,attempted to tackle this anomaly to create a spiritual message for Hanukkah: “There are two sides to the relationship between Judaism and Hellenism. On the one hand, darkness over the depths – this refers to Greek Hellenism which sought to bring darkness to the eyes of Israel; on the other hand, [the Sages decreed that] ‘the Holy Scriptures cannot be written (translated] into any other language but Greek…There is something beautiful about Greek dwelling together with that which is Jewish. But there is also something unusual about Greek thinking which is the source of this dual [and sometimes problematic] relationship between Judaism and Hellenism” (adapted from Pahad Yitzhak Hanukkah 4:3)
Hutner posits two divine revelations, one stemming from creation, fixed and universal; and the other, dependent on the Sinai revelation (Torah), which is freedom based and particular. The first, he identifies with Hellenism and the latter, with Torah. These two approaches will always be at odds with each other, with the potential for both positive and negative implications. The former has the potential to flatten or destroy the later or they can work in tandem and complement each other. (Hanukkah 4:4-5)
The message of the haftarah, according to Hutner, stems from this complementary approach where both forms of revelation work together. Then “And many people will join themselves to the Lord on that day [messianic times] and shall be My people and I [God] will dwell in your midst”. This explains the permissive attitude toward translating the Tanakh to Greek. (Hanukkah 7:8)
Of course, this makes Hanukkah a celebration of the juggling act which is so much a part of living as a Jew in the world. Just how much and how will we combine these two divine revelations and maintain a sense of who and what we are? This internal and external struggle will always be with us. Time to celebrate the dialectic.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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