Jewish, Jewish, Everywhere, & not a drop to drink
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Hanukah Themes: The Jewish Family: Source of Victory or Defeat.

Related to the weekly Torah portion of VaYeshev, read in synagogue on Dec. 20th, ‘03
(Genesis Chapter 37, v. 1 – Chapter 40, v. 23). Dedicated to my Parents.

Written by me...SIMSHALOM!

Armies fight in groups. Individuals fight as gladiators or prizefighters but that is mostly for show. Real battles can only be fought when men and women come together to form “units”. In current military terms the smallest grouping of soldiers is a squad of about ten soldiers. Next comes the platoon that may consist of about three squads. A company is made up of three platoons, and so the units increase in size until they finally become a massive army. In “normal” situations united armies fight against external enemies. In “abnormal” situations armies sometimes split internally and fight civil wars against each other. Since Jewish history is very ancient, there are ample examples of both situations. What they share in common is that according to classical Judaism it is all rooted in the conflicts and resolutions between Jacob’s twelve sons.

The questions before us as Jews will always remain: What is it that we want to be as a people? A house united or a house divided against itself? Can there ever be true peace at home AND absolute peace abroad? Is the ideal of “SHALOM BAYIT” (“PEACE AT/OF HOME”) really do-able and simultaneously can there ever be “SHALOM BA-OLAM” (“PEACE IN THE WORLD”) or “SHALOM BEIN HA-AMIM” (PEACE AMONG THE NATIONS)?

Believe it or not, the answers are all somehow embedded and inscribed in the sagas of Jacob’s sons and how they play out, but it takes a fresh sincere concerted open-minded effort to look with unprejudiced eyes and bring it into clearer focus, truly see it, understand and internalize it in meaningful ways that may just clear the intellectual and spiritual thickets and make the attainment of true awareness and internal and external PEACE-SHALOM possible.

An important question is how can it possibly be that Jacob’s small family that lived about 3,500 years ago has the power to “shape” the outcome of ALL later events in Jewish history?

This is a very deep question in the realms of Jewish thought and esoteric knowledge. It is crucial to appreciate that in classical Judaism the Twelve Tribes/Jacob’s Sons/The Children of Israel are regarded as manifestations of God’s own presence in this world. They are referred to as the “TWELVE TRIBES OF GOD” (“YUD BET SHIVTEI KAH”). Jacob gave the world more than just biological progenitors of an eventual physical Nation of Israel, he actually served as a conduit for a Divine Plan that chose him to be the one to establish a literal new Godly world order through the twelve unique beings that God had granted him, all rooted in vast supernal spiritual forces. (By the way, I cannot resist, but this seems to be the source for the later Christian “adoption and adaptation” of this notion with 12 “apostles” as the core of a “new” religion, even going so far as to have a “split” with a misguided renegade Judas Iscariot as the internal villain, not very original to say the least). In any case, it has nevertheless evidently proven to be a maddeningly frustrating job to actually bring about the plan that God appears to have had for His world judging from the internal divisiveness and externally torturous path that Jewish history has followed from pre-Biblical times to the present.

Two crucial principles that are always at work when trying to make sense of the relevancy of Torah are: “MA-ASEH AVOT SIMAN LEBANIM” (“THE ACTIONS OF THE FATHERS IS A SIGN/FOUNDATION FOR THE SONS”), and “MAH SHE-IRAH LE-AVOT IRAH LEBANIM” (“WHAT HAPPENED TO THE FATHERS HAPPENED TO THE SONS”). Thus what may appear to the un-initiated disinterested observer as the seemingly mundane and mediocre wrangling of “over-grown adolescents” fighting over turf and position, is in actual fact a kind of blue-print of a cosmic conflict and historical paradigm represented in the “PERSONAS” of Jacob’s twelve sons, of how and even when and why, things happen as they do. They represent patterns and human actions in time and are thus larger than life proto-type “test models” for waves of subsequent generations that will go through identical “motions” as determined by God’s Plan for this world of ours.

Yes, had the twelve sons originally acted “better” or differently, then the course of Jewish history would have probably been better and likely very different. But since the Torah describes the events in a definitive manner as having taken place “in such and such a way”, WE are left with the clear job of LEARNING FROM THEIR MISTAKES (as well as from their achievements, obviously) via serious Torah study, and gain an understanding as to how we got into our current personal and national predicaments and crisis, and what it will really take for us to make it all better and go away, hopefully for ever!

Another question is, that if Jacob’s sons were all so “Divine” and righteous in the absolute sense, so how come they come across as so argumentative, divisive, and hostile to each other at various points? Why are they a “house divided” so often with prominent differences with each other, almost to the point of embarrassment, sometimes even near fatal?

There are no easy or neat answers to this unfortunately. One major avenue of understanding that’s emphasized by rabbinic scholars is to put the twelve brothers on the level of competing dynastic monarchies, which is what they would eventually become in time. Powerful people, such as kings and high-powered rulers work under tougher rules than the average person. The slightest actions of a powerful person are always subject to the minutest public, as well as Godly, scrutiny. Being in a powerful position of leadership means that even the most seemingly minute and “unintended” actions can have explosive consequences for the powerful person, their entourage, and those under them, be they subjects or employees. Ruin or fame can hinge on the smallest actions.

So it is with Jacob’s sons. Their very unusual origins meant that they had to learn to get along as an unwieldy “family unit” literally rooted in and defined by God, and with an awesome human legacy from the great Jewish patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A home with four wives, twelve male siblings, and at least equal amounts of unspecified daughters is surely a very unwieldy entity. Like any business or army it must learn the art of: Learning the Mission Statement; Acceptance of a Leadership Body; Accepting Governing Rules and Values; Setting of Common Goals and Objectives; Agreed Upon Methodologies; Conflict Management and Resolution; Facing Outside Competition and Enemies; Negotiation; Uniting for the Larger Good; Respect for Individual and Human Rights; Respect for Hierarchy; Fairness and Fair Play; Utilization of Skills and Resources; … (and the greatest of all) Submitting to a Higher Authority. These goals and objectives are NEVER, ever, “naturally” or easily attained because the human condition is such that people are NOT born “trained” at birth for their mission in life.

Frankly, “toilet training” has to come way before any more “noble education” can commence <#:-$ Many times people “learn” what God and life demands from them through the “school of hard knocks” which entails much human “growth pains” as in “no pain, no gain”!

We are presented with the reality of two competing dynasties: The sons of Leah versus the sons of Rachel. At the core of this struggle is the question: Who is the “TRUE first born”? Is it Joseph, the eldest son of the undoubtedly most-beloved wife Rachel? Or is to be the chosen first-born son of Leah? The question is further muddied because Leah’s biological oldest son Reuben loses his status to Judah, because he is involved in a controversy with his father Jacob.

We clearly see that royalty befits Joseph as he eventually rises to be the head of the royal house of Pharaoh in ancient Egypt. The rabbis say that when Jacob gave Joseph the special multi-colored robe that engendered so much jealousy from the other brothers, he was in actual fact nominating him as his primary governing successor, and Joseph played the part to the hilt by taking on royal airs. What brought matters to a boil were Joseph’s personal dreams, with the family symbolically bowing down to him, which he then blithely divulges to them. They are enraged and suspect him of plotting a complete take over, perhaps of even wanting to eliminate them from the picture completely. So then their actions are subsequently those of a “tribunal” set up to judge a “pretender to the throne”, and award him a “suspended” death sentence yet not quite sure how to carry out the penalty without incurring the wrath of their father. Joseph is thus placed in “administrative detention”, not quite in a chateau with an iron mask on his face, but in an empty pit creeping with vermin. Interestingly it is Reuben and Judah who cut the “Gordian knot” when first Reuben pleads with the others not to kill Joseph outright, and Judah recommends that he be sold into slavery to Arab slave traders (seems they have been doing this for some time now `[:-})

Interestingly, and factually there will eventually be a “DUAL MONARCHY” established for the Children of Israel stemming from the House of Rachel and the House of Leah. The first Jewish King will be Saul from the Tribe of Benjamin of the House of Rachel that will then be subsumed into the monarchy of King David descended from the Tribe of Judah of the House of Leah.

Tragically, perhaps as prophetically “preordained” (and the Torah is after all presupposed to be true prophecy), due to the link between Saul (from the Tribe of Benjamin) and Joseph (through Joseph’s brotherly connection to Benjamin), it is because of the “death sentence” issued against Joseph in earlier times, that Saul meets a very dark death at his own hands rather than be taken prisoner by the Philistines. He was also tragically on a rampage to hunt down and kill David whom he considered an insurrectionist. The Philistines subsequently behead and mutilate Saul’s body in a disgusting manner. Saul’s three sons, with his prime heir Jonathan also die in battle, and Saul’s daughter Michal, married to David (a marital attempt at uniting the two monarchs), is barren and cannot produce an heir to David’s throne. Saul’s surviving son, Ishboshet rules briefly until he is assassinated and loses the crown permanently. So it would seem that when Jacob’s sons fatefully gang up on Joseph with intent to do him bodily harm, it is probably prophetically “manifested” and fulfilled when the first Jewish King and his entire immediate family stemming from the same dynasty as Joseph, the House of Rachel, are eliminated. An example in history of the principle: “The Deeds of the Fathers Are A Sign for the Sons”. Regicide Extremis.

Consequently, this clears the way for King David of the House of Leah to take over as leader of Israel. A house divided against itself on epic proportions, and the dawn of a new era promising Jewish unity, happening together.

It is King David who triumphs over the Philistines, and rules Israel in the name and spirit of BOTH royal streams, from Leah AND Rachel and he is regarded as the literal HEART OF THE NATION. This is in fact the meaning of the deep “love” between David and Jonathan. They worked together in harmony and BROTHERHOOD to bring about absolute unity of Jacob’s divided House. Just as a heart has two chambers that unite together into one organ for the welfare of the entire body, so King David in his person and heart unites the two streams of Israel’s monarchy, of Rachel-Joseph and Leah-Judah into the ONE whole living spiritual body-politic of Israel/Judea.

This was reflected in the blessings Judah received from Jacob:
“Judah, your brothers shall submit to you. Your hand shall be on your enemies necks, your father’s sons shall bow to you…The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor legislation from his descendants. Nations will submit to him until the final tranquility comes.” (Genesis Chapter 49, vs. 8-10) [*1]

And later, when Moses at the end of the Torah blesses the tribe of Judah it states:
“May God hear Judah’s voice and bring him to his people. Although his power suffices him, may You help him against his enemies.” (Deuteronomy Chapter 33, v. 8) [*2]

The above-mentioned “final tranquility” that Judah will bring is in the end of times when there will also be TWO MESSIAHS, (“Messiah” means an “Anointed” King, as that is how a King is initially “inducted”, being “anointed” with sanctified oil poured on his head.) There will be the King-Messiah Son of Joseph (“Mashiach ben Yosef”) and the King-Messiah Son of David.
[Yes, obviously these notions have been taken over by Christianity for its own purposes and claims about a “first” and “second” coming, as well as the entire notion of “messiah”, in the GREEK language “christos” means “anointed”, and is the source for the similar sounding English name, but are used in an entirely DIFFERENT religion called “Christianity”, and are NOT part of Judaism at all].

According to esoteric Judaic teachings, the Messiah Son of Joseph will fight important battles to prepare the world for the final stage of the Final Redemption (“Ge-ulah Achronah”). Like Joseph who was endowed with the capabilities of bringing powerful ancient Egypt under his rule, his ultimate heir Messiah Son of Joseph (“of Joseph” because he is both descended from Joseph and his royal powers to conquer and rule the enemies of Israel) will have the power to fight evil and bring the world to heel. Yet sadly, Messiah Son of Joseph is destined to fall victim to fatal challenges, scorned by his own people, perhaps even imprisoned and die an ignoble death. This too is perhaps prophetically presaged by Joseph’s close call and brush with a death-sentence after the brothers felt he had gone too far in his quest for primacy in the family hierarchy of Jacob’s Divine Designed Tribe. In fact when Joseph was “lost” in Egypt, Jacob was convinced that he had been murdered in some dark plot, and that he was surely dead by now.

So we see that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob laid down the foundation of the Jewish people in the most amazing of ways, as individual forefathers each injecting their unique genetic ingredient into the making of the nation of Israel. It is only when Jacob’s twelve sons are born and mature to take their place as the first Children of Israel (as Jacob their father was renamed Israel), that the FIRST TRUE JEWISH FIGHTING UNIT IS ESTABLISHED, for better or worse! With the birth of his last sons, Joseph and Benjamin, Jacob knows that he has become fully empowered to confidently confront and defeat, first and foremost, his own warring brother Esau - himself the father of a vast militaristic dynasty, but along the way there will be many, many bitter Jewish CIVIL WARS to endure before the outside world can be successfully subdued and pacified.

Last week’s Torah portion concludes with a comprehensive listing of Esau’s dynastic lines through Edom as he is known. This is placed in contradistinction to Jacob’s twelve sons, with Joseph’s story coming to the fore first. The rabbis of the Medrash teach that with the birth of Joseph, Esau’s nemesis (“sitno”) is born. They compare Esau’s royal groupings to a pile of pathetic straw. On the other hand Jacob is a “fire” and Joseph is his “flame”. No matter how high a mountain of “straw” may be, and superficially it may be very intimidating, yet when it is placed next to a small fire and the flame that comes out of it, the straw is soon reduced to a heap of smoky ashes. This is a fulfillment of a prophecy in Obadiah, Chapter 1, v. 18: “And the house of Jacob shall be a fire and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for straw, and they will ignite them and devour them.” As quoted by Rashi [*3]. Most importantly, it is because Joseph stands at the head of a “unit” designated as the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel and can therefore be an expression of its deepest will: The elimination of absolute evil from this world as embodied in Esau/Edom/Rome/Amalek/Haman/Hitler/Gog/Magog by Jacob’s and Joseph’s People. The metaphors of “fire” and “flame” fit perfectly into the framework of the Festival of Lights, which is what Hanukah is called. On a more somber note, let’s not forget that too often due to the disunity of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, when Jewish families and hearts have turned against God and each other, it has been the Jewish Temples and millions of Jewish martyrs who have burned and fueled the flames of hate and anti-Semitism from ancient Jerusalem to modern Auschwitz. ~#:-{

Thus Jacob’s family, when united, and provided they maintain their faith and connection with God, have the potential to defeat not just Esau, but any powers that may subsequently rise against them. However, internally Jacob’s family suffered from a huge nagging family dispute and schism between Joseph and his brothers, the beginnings of which are described in great detail in this week’s Torah portion. The spiritual and historical fall out of the parting of the ways between Joseph and his siblings has manifested itself in various catastrophes that have befallen the Children of Israel from ancient times, through the times of the “Ten Lost Tribes”, the invasions and tyrannies of the Babylonians, Persians, and then under the Greeks during which time the great Hanukah saga occurs, and then the onset of the interminable exile of Rome, Esau’s revenge over the last two thousand years.

Unfortunately, the enormous family dispute and near execution of Joseph at the hands of his brothers that rips Jacob’s family apart, leads it directly into the long Egyptian exile. Sadly the violent disagreements between Jacob’s sons is the spiritual incubator for the diseases that will fuel of all manner of Jewish civil wars, be they peaceful or war-like, between all Jews throughout the ages down to our very own times, and will ONLY be relieved by the arrival of the Jewish Messiah who will restore true peace to the very fractured and divided House of Jacob/Israel, by re-establishing the Ten Lost Tribes, and uniting the lost Kingdom of Israel with the scattered remnants of the Kingdom of Judah.

At many crucial points in Jewish history, the power to either unite or fracture the totality of the House of Jacob/Israel has hinged on the predominant factor of HOW DO THE RIVALS AND RIVALRIES STEMMING FROM JOSEPH’S-BENJAMIN’S DYNASTY, THE HOUSE OF RACHEL, AND THOSE FROM JUDAH-LEVI (the Hasmonean Maccabees of Hanukah are Priests-Kohanim from the Tribe of Levi), THE HOUSE OF LEAH, DEAL WITH THEIR AMBITIONS AND DIFFERENCES INTERNALLY AND EXTERNALLY? Can the two rival dynasties ever reconcile in time? Do they want to reconcile? Do Jacob’s heirs, the citizens of the later actual twelve tribes of Israel and Judah have the spiritual and existential will and guts to once and for all become “One Nation Under God Indivisible with Freedom and Justice For All”—to borrow from the hallowed lexicon of the modern United States of America?

In the story of Hanukah that took place about 2,200 years ago there was also a key Jewish family involved that was at the center of the drama. It was Matityahu (Matathias) the High Priest, from Hasmonea, and his five sons: Yochanan, Simon, Judah (the Maccabee), Eleazar, and Jonathan, who launched a revolt not just against the Syrian-Greek invaders of Judea, but also against their Jewishly born Hellenized brethren, meaning those Jew who had assimilated into the prevailing secular Greek culture of the times and were allied with the non-Jewish Greek dominating powers.
Thus Hanukah is also a time when a major Jewish civil war took place. It ended in the victory of the Hasmonean Maccabees, symbolized by the miracle of the little lights of the Menorah, when the few triumphed over the many, the “pure” Loyal Jews against the Hellenized “impure” ones. The lighting of the Menorah (the Temple Candelabra) symbolizes the triumph of Torah values, beliefs, ideas, and practices OVER the prevailing Grecian secularly enlightened gentile overlords and their Jewish wannabies.

Curiously, at that time there was also a splitting of the various schools of thought within the Torah scholastic world that pitted two major rabbis against each other, the school of the Mishnaic sage Hillel, a proponent of “leniency”, versus that of the sage Shammai who was generally “stricter” in his interpretations of Torah law, that remains a part of Torah scholarship to this day. This shows that there was no escaping the winds of divisiveness that blew over the Jewish world in its entirety, even within the hallowed walls of Jewish scholarship, with rivals pounding on the outside doors and divisions - “machlokes”, within the inner sanctums of the Yeshivas, the Rabbinical Academies of Talmudic Learning. Some rabbinical commentators have pointed out that Shammai, the “stricter” Torah sage was a descendant of Joseph whereas Hillel, the more “lenient” one came from the house of Judah. Whatever their biological ancestry, their undoubtedly necessary and high-minded Torah ideological splits and differences are definitely consistent with the concept of a “dual monarchy” of IDEAS, that may seem to be “irreconcilable” and conflicting on the surface, yet deeper down converge into one coherent totality of coherent Torah thought and law.

As we are about to start the holiday of Hanukah, when an isolated small minority of Jews REBELLED [what else? :- )] successfully against an oppression of body and spirit, it deserves a little closer look. Rabbi Moshe Zauderer writes at
http://www.jewishstudies.org/courses/HHC/samplelecture.htm as follows:

What is Hanukah?

“How has this 2100-year-old historical event been preserved so tenaciously in the Jewish national conscience? What are its lasting messages? How did the Sages of that time ensure that the celebration of Chanukah would continue even after the military victories of the Hasmonean army were no longer felt, when the Romans later conquered the Jewish State and exiled the Jewish people? Maimonides (1135-1204, Egypt), Laws of Hanukah 3:1-3,summarizes the religious and historical bases of the Chanukah holiday:”
“During the period of Greek domination (~ 273 BCE – ~ 140 BCE) of the Second Temple era (350 BCE – 70 CE), the Syrian-Greeks imposed oppressive decrees on the Jewish people, with the objective of eradicating the Jewish religion. They prevented the Jews from studying Torah and performing mitzvoth; they extorted Jewish wealth and violated Jewish women and girls; they entered the Holy Temple, defiling everything sacred. Their tyrannical rule constricted the Jewish people greatly, until the G-d of our forefathers mercifully delivered the Jews from the Greeks. The Hasmonean family prevailed over the Greeks, saving the Jewish people from Greek oppression, and establishing a Jewish monarchy.”
“Maimonides identifies the focus of Greek persecution as being the eradication of Judaism and all that is sacred in its way of life. He makes it clear that it was only Divine intervention that ended this intolerable situation. G-d handed a victory to what historical accounts attest was a vastly inferior Hasmonean army. This victory led to autonomy in the land of Israel and the Jews’ return to Jewish practice. Maimonides goes on to describe how the Sages preserved the remembrance of the Hasmonean victory for all future generations. (He bases his descriptions on the Talmudic account of the Chanukah enactment [Tractate Shabbat]):”
“When the victorious Hasmoneans entered the Temple on the 25th day of the lunar month of Kislev, they searched the Temple grounds for any sealed cruses of pure oil designated for use in lighting the Menorah (the seven-branched candelabra used in the Temple). They found only a single cruse of oil that bore the seal of the High Priest, attesting to its purity. Although the vessel contained oil sufficient to burn in the Menorah for only a single day, miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, until a fresh supply of sanctified oil could be prepared. To perpetuate the memory of that miracle, the Sages of that generation promulgated the observance of eight festival days, beginning on the 25th day of Kislev. These days are to be celebrated with rejoicing, reciting declarations of praise and gratitude to G-d, and lighting candles each night at sunset at the entranceway of one’s house, in order to publicize the miracle. These days are called Chanukah. The Sages legislated the eight-day Chanukah holiday to commemorate the miracle of the burning oil, rather than the stunning military victory. Expressions of praise and gratitude shape the spirit of Chanukah celebration.” [*4]

Coming back to our original train of thought, we have previously pointed out that the original confrontations of Hanukah were also between those Jews loyal to Torah observance as symbolized by the Menorah, the symbol of Torah light, and those who followed in the Hellenized Grecian “Olympian” ways of the Greeks with their love of superficial aesthetics, philosophy and worldly culture that put MAN at the center of the universe, relegating God to “oblivion”. There is a concept that the civil war of Hanukah is somehow a dark reflection of the “civil war” between the first set of Jewish brothers, Jacob’s sons who triggered “negative energies” from the “Dark Side” that in Greek times would result in Jews “arguing philosophically” and adopting Greek ways. The Greeks introduced the notion of ATHEISM, meaning “A-Theos”, “There is NO God”, unlike earlier idol-worship, which substituted an inanimate, or living object “IN PLACE OF” God. Judaism regards Atheism as ABSOLUTE SPIRITUAL DARKNESS. Hanukah is the prophetic celebration of Judaism’s Ethical Monotheism’s COMPLETE UNAMBIGUOUS VICTORY over Atheistic Greek Secular Humanism.
As Divine Destiny would have it, due to past “royal grid-lock” with traditional Jewish morality disgraced and ruined from the top down, the corruption of the Jewish royals had already earned them the wrath of God and encoded in the writings of the Prophets, it was neither Joseph nor Judah, neither a member of Benjamin or someone from the court of King David who stepped up to lead the Jews out of the Greek dilemma, but rather someone from the priestly tribe of LEVI the KOHANIM: It would be Matathias, a High Priest from the Temple, and his sons who vanquish the Greeks, but also make a fatal historic error in also assuming the mantle of temporal leadership and monarchy which was not reserved for them., circumstances notwithstanding. Yes, the HOLINESS symbolized by the High Priest may win a grand victory over putrid Greek culture, but a priest’s place is ultimately in the Temple at God’s Altar, and not on the Throne that God guaranteed to the Seed of David forevermore.

This self-inflicted historical wound has puzzled the scholars who all agree that the subsequent failed rule of the self-declared Hasmonean “monarchs” opened the door to that last and most fateful phase of Jewish exile, the arrival of Rome in ancient Israel/Judea, setting the stage once again for the next drawn out knock down drag out fight over the last 2,000 years, that awaits its final resolution with the arrival of the last Messianic Kings, again, to be drawn from the House of Joseph and the House of David, who TOGETHER will carry out a COMBINED MISSION befitting a UNIFIED MONARCHY and gather in the Jewish exiles to the Holy Land of Israel, fight and eradicate the evil among the nations as symbolized by Amalek, rebuild the Third and final Jewish Temple, and bring about the transformation of the world from a place where DARKNESS lurks to one of perpetual on-going LIGHT.

May this year’s Hanukah lights banish the darkness of night, and shine bright for all to see the truth, and light up the world forever! Please let me know what YOU think! Have a wonderful Shabbat and Happy Hanukah!

[*1] The Living Torah, English translation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, pp. 245-7.
[*2] Ibid. p.1037.
[*3] Pentateuch, Genesis Chapter 37, v.1, English translation and notes by M. Rosenbaum and A.M. Silberman, p.179.
[*4] http://www.jewishstudies.org/courses/HHC/samplelecture.htm , Rabbi Moshe Zauderer.

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