The Xmas Tree and the Menorah
It’s wonderful that the U.S. is so welcoming but we can never forget the risk of forgetting who we are and what we stand for.
I've been in New York this week. Everywhere I go, every hotel lobby, every public square, every shopping area, has a large Xmas tree set up in one corner and a (smaller!) Chanukah menorah in the other. It's a testament to America and its effort at equality.
But I think perhaps it promotes, or at the very least, reflects confusion as well. It suggests a certain equivalency – they have their winter holiday, we have ours. And it leads to...they have their presents, we have ours (yes, presents are fine, but they're not exactly traditional and what the holiday is all about) and to...they have their trees, we have our bush...
And that's just the superficial. The real problem is that it fosters the very challenge that Chanukah and the Maccabees arose to address – assimilation.
Unlike our more recent enemies, the Greeks did not want to destroy the Jews; they wanted to destroy Judaism. As long as the Jews would adopt Greek philosophy and practices, all would be well. It was our stubborn need to cling to such antiquated practices as circumcision and keeping Shabbos (to name a few) that aroused their ire.
It was our desire to have a relationship with God, to stand for the soul in direct contrast to the Greek celebration of the body. Nothing puts a damper on body indulgences like the voice of morality. The Jews were the ultimate buzz-kill, the fish to the Greek's Cat in the Hat, if you will.
This was the heart of the battle. The holiness of beauty versus the beauty of holiness. This was the war that waged for years. This was the threat to the Jewish people and to the essential nature of our existence.
And although the Greeks are long gone, it is the same threat we face today. It is the same temptation that confronts Jews in the diaspora on a daily basis. It is an ongoing struggle that is highlighted at this time of seemingly parallel holidays.
It is wonderful that the United States is so welcoming. I don't want to sound like a Grinch (is that an inappropriate reference?), I'll even confess to enjoying the pretty decorations and the holiday spirit that seems to pervade the atmosphere. But we can never forget the risk, the risk of forgetting who we are and what we stand for, of forgetting our unique mission in the world, the risk of becoming too American but not too Jewish.
Our ancestors were willing to die so that we would stay true to our roots and our goals, so that we would maintain our values, so that we would continue to strengthen our relationship with the Almighty and deepen our connection to the Torah. It’s up to us to be willing to live for it.