By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
For me, after the High Holidays I look forward to Hanukkah that sort of “lights up the darkness” of winter and makes it easier to leave the holiday season knowing Hanukkah is not far away. But after Hanukkah is finished it just seems like darkness with no light. Is there something to take with me from Hanukkah to bring more light into the darkness of winter? (Sorry to be so illustrative but I’m a visual person and think in those terms.)
We truly are living in a time of darkness, not only because it is winter, but because much of the democratic and civilized world seems to have descended into the darkness of abject moral confusion.
Rabbi Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa, summed it up so clearly and succinctly in a recent address which I highly recommend you and all to listen to; here is the link: https://tinyurl.com/52k7adcd.
Rabbi Goldstein laments that a key, prestigious church in South Africa recently hosted a delegation of senior Hamas officials, who represent the same Hamas who behead children, rape women, burn babies in ovens and kidnap the elderly for ransom.
Then, a few days ago, we all watched the deeply disturbing footage of the presidents of MIT, Harvard and U of Penn, none of whom could unequivocally state that a call for the genocide of the Jewish people is unacceptable. Rather it’s “context-dependent.” The leaders of higher education, charged to educate our best and brightest as leadership for the future, have complete moral confusion, to the extent they can’t give a clear and simple answer to the most basic of moral questions. The result is systemic antisemitism in these and many other schools, universities and high schools throughout the country. Darkness.
I will quote Rabbi Goldstein’s eloquent words as to the proper outlook on what we are witnessing, and its connection to Hanukkah and beyond:
“…Alarm bells are ringing. The next generation of leaders of the free world are being educated at these institutions. We’re witnessing the intellectual and moral decay of academia and by extension Western society happening in real time.
“How is it possible that the world’s most elite intellectual institutions can fall prey to such crude antisemitism? Part of the answer is that, in thrall to postmodernism, much of academia today does not accept the existence of good and evil as objective realities. This nihilistic philosophy is a direct threat to the very foundations of the free world, whose constitutional democracies are grounded in the Hebrew Bible and its foundational principle that there are eternal and objective concepts of good and evil given to us by the Creator of the universe.
“The moral foundations of the United States come from cornerstone Divine commandments such as ‘do not murder,’ ‘do not steal,’ from the eternal values of equality and justice, the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and the innate dignity of human beings created in G-d’s image. This is what the drafters of the U.S. Constitution mean when they talk about ‘inalienable rights’ ‘endowed by the Creator’ and ‘truths’ that are ‘self-evident.’ These terms, that give expression to the bedrock values and the moral foundations of free societies, invoke language that would be unacceptable, if not unintelligible, to many university professors and their students today.
“The foundations of the very concept of morality are cracking and without them all we have is moral relativism that eventually descends into survival of the fittest. And what makes this philosophy so dangerous is that it is cloaked in a sophisticated, intellectual veneer of professors and universities. But let us remember that most of the accused in the Nuremberg trials had Ph.D.s. We must never underestimate how morally confused the world can be.
“With hindsight, it’s clear to us that Nazi Germany was evil and a direct threat to the democracies of the time. And yet Neville Chamberlain and many of the elite leadership and media establishments at the time did not accept that. And even after Winston Churchill became prime minister — and even after Germany had conquered much of Europe, including France, and set its sights on Great Britain — there was a lot of pressure on Churchill to come to an agreement with Hitler and to find a way of accommodating and appeasing the evil Nazi regime.
“So how did Churchill know that he was dealing with real evil that could not be negotiated with or accommodated? For Churchill there was one key moment that crystallized the Nazis’ irredeemable, pure evil. That moment happened in the early hours of the 10th of November 1938. It was called Kristallnacht. Over the course of 24 hours, in every German town, Jewish shops and synagogues were ransacked. Jews were attacked and killed in the streets. More than 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and sent to death camps. Nazi Germany had clarified its intentions in case they weren’t obvious before. As Churchill chillingly put it, in a famous address in the House of Commons in the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht, ‘Is not this the moment when all should hear the deep, repeated strokes of the alarm bell?’
“Churchill knew intuitively that Kristallnacht heralded pure evil that endangered not just the Jews but the civilized world. Somehow, he intuited something with deep spiritual roots going back to the very beginning of time.
“As Jews read in the Haggadah at Passover, ‘In every generation there are those who rise up to destroy us. And the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.’ It begs the question, why will these implacable enemies of the Jewish people rise up in every generation to destroy us?
“This question touches on the deepest secrets of existence. On the very first day of creation, the Book of Genesis describes how G-d created light. The sages of the Talmud note that this is not talking about physical light and darkness. After all, the sun and the moon and the stars were only created on day four. Rather, it refers to moral light and darkness. Or, as our sages put it, the deeds of the righteous and the deeds of the wicked.
“And, from the very beginning, it says, ‘And G-d saw the light that it was good, and G-d separated between the light and the darkness,’ indicating to us human history would be defined by the titanic struggle between good and evil, light and darkness. That battle has ebbed and flowed across time. Sometimes light has predominated and the world has been a largely peaceful place. In such times, humanity has made incredible strides forward. At other times darkness has held sway, the world has gone backwards and tyranny has prevailed.
“History has taught us that G-d designated the Jews as the ‘alarm bell’ that evil is on the march and endangers the world. The forces of darkness are naturally drawn to exterminate the people who are meant to be the ‘light unto the nations.’ The intent to exterminate an entire nation — the Jews — from the face of the planet is the sign that forces of evil are running rampant.
“And that is what Churchill instinctively knew, following Kristallnacht — that Nazi Germany had revealed itself as the agent of Jewish extermination; that ‘the deep, repeated strokes of the alarm bell’ were sounding not only for the Jews, but for the civilized world, for all that is good.
“With absolute moral clarity Churchill recognized the moral darkness — a darkness that would engulf the free world unless it was confronted — and defeated.
“And that brings us to today. In a certain way it is 1938 all over again. The actors are different, but the story is the same. Iran is today’s Nazi Germany with its proxy armies Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis. Its intent to exterminate the Jewish people has been made clear in word and in action. Oct. 7 is Kristallnacht. It is the day the world saw the evil of the jihadist philosophy in full force, carried out, this time, by Hamas. It is the day Iran’s darkness revealed itself. That darkness threatens not just Israel but nations throughout the world. In Africa. In the Middle East. In Asia.
“When university presidents cannot understand that calling for the genocide of Jews is evil no matter the context, when antisemitism surges throughout the globe, when protestors scream ‘gas the Jews’ in Western capitals of the world, it is a spiritual sign that the civilized world is in danger and ‘the deep, repeated strokes of the alarm bell’ can be heard.
“The ancient festival of Hanukkah that we are currently celebrating gives us the direction we need at this time. It’s no coincidence that the menorah, the candelabrum we light on Hanukkah, is the symbol of the State of Israel. The IDF are often held up as modern-day Maccabees. But there is another parallel to our times. The Maccabees were great heroes, battling the evil global Assyrian-Greek empire that invaded Israel and perpetrated horrific acts of oppression and brutality.
“And yet, in spite of that, in spite of what was clearly a just and vitally necessary war, a struggle for freedom, there were many among the Jewish camp who criticized the Maccabees, who said that the Greek empire could and should be accommodated. There were even those openly sympathetic to their oppressors and their way of life — so-called Hellenistic Jews. Like our own era, it was a confusing time. Hellenism brought with it tremendous advances in human knowledge and in all fields of human endeavor, mathematics, science, biology, engineering, architecture. And yet, it was a culture without eternal moral foundations and it produced a global tyranny as a result.
“In the face of this threat, there were those who felt the Maccabees were too aggressive, too confrontational, too uncompromising; that there had to be another way, a way that Jews could live in peace with the ancient Greek kingdom, could coexist with an evil empire. But the Maccabees had the moral clarity to distinguish good from evil, to recognize that the forces of evil cannot be accommodated and need to be defeated. And that is why the symbol of this festival is the flames of the menorah, symbolizing the light of that which is noble and good.
“This symbolism resonates with the beginnings of creation when ‘G-d saw the light that it was good, and G-d separated between the light and the darkness.’ For the forces of good and light to triumph we must follow in the ways of our Creator and distinguish between good and evil, between light and darkness. And to recognize the light as good.
“And so when we light the menorah this Hanukkah, we do so in tribute to the Maccabees’ bravery, but also to embolden ourselves, to strengthen our own hearts. We recognize that there are moments in history when a generation is called upon to distinguish good from evil and to stand up to evil, to be strong and courageous. Like the Maccabees, we need to summon the moral clarity to separate between the light and the darkness, to say, as G-d said, that the light is good.
“Moral confusion has become the single greatest global security threat. The United States, United Kingdom, EU and all of the other forces of democracy in the world must see Iran for what it is, the Nazi Germany of our day — a force of pure evil that cannot be accommodated, that must be confronted, pushed back and defeated. They must give Israel full support to defeat one of Iran’s most barbaric proxies, Hamas. The brave soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces and the brave people of the State of Israel are on the front lines of this war. And they need the support of every decent human being and every democracy in the world.
“Moral clarity is the single most important strategic imperative of our times. Israel, the West and the free world have enough firepower to win this war. The only question is whether we have the moral clarity and conviction to distinguish between good and evil, between light and darkness. Whether we have the strength to summon the will to overcome the evil empire of Iran and its many proxy armies wreaking death and destruction and spreading global jihad.
“May G-d, who brought miracles for the Maccabees, bless us in our generation to overcome the forces of evil that threaten all that is noble and precious — so that we may defend civilization and spread the light of human dignity, human freedom and peace throughout our world.”
Madeleine, let’s use this winter to focus on continuing to radiate the light of Truth from the Torah into the darkness, with the hope that it will offset that darkness and we will begin to see the world turning back towards the light of Truth.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of DATA-Dallas Area Torah Association.