Jewish privilege
search
TorahParshat Vayeshev

Jewish privilege

Genesis 37:1 – 40:23

In the prayer “V’al Hanissim” (“And for the miracles …”) that we recite during Chanukah, we thank G-d for the miraculous victory that the Maccabees had over the wicked Hellenic government: “You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah.”

While it’s understood that the victory of the “mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few” exemplifies the miracle, the second part of the prayer — “the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah” — raises the question of why one would assume that being pure, righteous and occupied with Torah study would somehow put one at a disadvantage. We know many righteous Torah scholars who are also strong enough to defend themselves and their community.

In the story of Chanukah, there was a group of Jews called Misyavnim, or Hellenists. They crossed enemy lines and joined the Greeks in their campaign to eradicate Judaism from the Holy Land. Similarly, today on college campuses, there is the tragic sight of Jewish students who spread misinformation and lies about our brothers and sisters in Israel. The most painful part of a Chabad campus rabbi’s mission is watching Jewish students support causes that adversely affect the well-being and safety of the Jewish community.

This explains our expression of gratitude to Hashem during Chanukah. Although there were Jews who acted as a fifth column in supporting the Greeks, nevertheless the Maccabees were victorious. Not only were they victorious in eradicating the Greeks and restoring the Temple, but G-d also delivered the mighty, wicked and impure — referring to the Jewish Hellenists — into the hands of the Maccabees. Even those who were so far off that they were willing to cross enemy lines were brought back to be proud of their Jewish heritage.

No matter how far one removes himself from his own Jewish heritage, his Jewish privilege, also known as neshama, will never dissipate, and with proper nourishment, it can come back to life.

How do we nourish our Jewish soul? Our Torah teaches us that when we put on tefillin, light the Shabbat candles, give tzedakah, put up a mezuzah, eat kosher, study Torah and love our fellow Jews, we bring our souls back to life. Even a neshama that has been dormant for many years will wake up by performing a mitzvah.

As a campus rabbi, I interact with Jewish students from various backgrounds. Some of them live in rural areas where there is
no synagogue or Jewish life. When they do a mitzvah, it’s something completely new; they never saw their parents being actively Jewish. Nevertheless, I’m able to see the joy and tranquility that they have when performing a mitzvah. Although they thought that they were not connected, they are reconnecting.

May the light of the Chanukah candles light up our homes, our souls and the entire world. PJC

Rabbi Zalman Gurevitz is the rabbi at the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center in Morgantown, West Virginia. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.

read more:
comments