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Aspaqlaria: Chanukah

Tore Open the Walls of my Citadel

The fifth stanza of the piyut "Maoz Tsur" describes the Hellene attack on the Beis Hamikdash with the words "ufartzu chomos migdalai -- and they tore open the walls of my citadel."

Powerful words. Tore Open the Walls of my Citadel. Conjures up pictures of an arming storming the mighty walls of a fortress to get at the oil and defile it.

The picture we get from the mishna is very different than this.

Within this [the wall around the Temple Mount] was the soreg, which was 10 tephachim high. Thirteen openings were in it, that the Hellenist Kings opened up. They restored them and closed them up, but legislated opposite them 13 bowings.

-- Midos 2:3

The Bartenura explains that it was called a soreg, an open weave, because it was made of widely spaced wooden slats. It was 10 tephachim, 31 inches high or so. This is the "walls of my citadel"?! A waist-high open-woven fence? And why, when they converted the Beis Hamikdash into a temple for their pantheon was the soreg the one thing they destroyed?

The Tosfos Yom Tov explains that the soreg served to demarcate the cheil, the inner part of the Temple Mount, that was open only to Jews. (See the Rosh for an alternative explanation.) The soreg was 10 tephachim high because that is the minimum height for a mechitzah.

Tearing down the soreg was very much symbolic of the troubles we faced. The whole effort was to force Jews to assimilate, to blur the line between Jew and non-Jew -- the very separation indicated by the soreg!

This is not to imply that there should be no interaction between Jew and non-Jew. We are supposed to be a "Kingdom of Kohanim and a Holy Nation". As individuals, we are to be kohanim, serving the religious needs of the world at large. But as a unified nation we are to be holy implying separate. How then can we be priests, serving the world's religious needs?

I'm reminded of a subtle change that came over American political rhetoric about a decade ago. Whereas the country used to call itself "The Great Melting Pot", it suddenly became "The Glorious Mosaic". A melting pot connotes the loss of individual ethnicity. The new model is one of many subcultures, each working together for the good of the larger picture.

I believe this is what Noach had in mind when he blessed his older two sons, "G-d gave beauty to Yefes, but lives in the tents of Sheim" (Bereishis 9:27). Yefes, whose philosophy was epitomized by his grandson Yavan, the father of the Greeks, was blessed with beauty, with aesthetics, the development of the mind, of Greek philosophy. Sheim, the first Semite, was also the grandfather of a founder of a nation -- Eiver, the first Hebrew. In Noach's picture of the world, each would contributed to the betterment of man. Yefes would provide the intellectual foundations, and the Jewish people would be the source of spirituality, growth and purpose.

Perhaps this is the reason behind the choice for the opening verses of the haphtorah for Chanukah, to remind us of the balance, the sh'vil hazahav, the golden mean between assimilation and isolation.

Be joyous and happy, Daughter of Zion; because here, I am coming and I will dwell among you, by the trust of G-d. And many peoples will gather to Hashem on that day, and they will be for Me a nation; and I will dwell among you, and you will know that Hashem-of-Hosts sent me to you.

-- Zecharia 2:14,15

The Radak explains that this is a prophecy about the Third Temple era. The purpose of this separateness is so that "from Zion shall come forth the Torah", so that we can radiate the truths, as a "Light for the Nations", to a world unified under the flag of the G-d of Israel.

The Ibn Ezra comments that this promise to dwell amongst us is conditional. We must first gather ourselves from among the nations, which has not yet happened. First we must build up the chomos migdalai, return to the land of Israel and the Torah of Israel.

© 1995 The AishDas Society