An Interview with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
December 1, 2002
IsraCast.com, Sound File Link:
Mordechai Twersky (Host): For IsraCast.com, this is Mordechai Twersky reporting. It's my great honor, pleasure and privilege to introduce to our international listening audience Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who is the Chief Rabbi in Efrat, founder and Chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone, and longtime spiritual leader, educator and communal leader, who joins us today to impart a special Hanukkah message to the international Jewish community. Thank you for being with us, Rabbi Riskin.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin: Thank you very much. This is a very difficult Hanukkah for us. It's a Hanukkah which begins in the wake of two terrible attacks, one here in Beit Shean, and the other in Mombassa, Kenya. Attacks which make us feel that a Jew is not safe anywhere, not in Israel, not anywhere in the world. And then we gather to light our Hanukkah menorah and must intone a blessing, "Blessed art thou, Lord our G-d, King of the world, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the light of Hanukkah; the G-d who has done miracles for our fathers and for us, at this time."
How do we understand Hanukkah in the light of the terrible tragedy that seems to be engulfing us? You know, probably one of the most fundamental questions that one must ask concerning Hanukkah. There are two distinct miracles. Hanukkah took place close to two thousand years ago. The Jews fighting against the Greek-Syrians. The Jews fighting against Hellenist ideology. The fundamental mystery seemed to have been the victory at war. We say it, every day, in our standing silent prayer called the 'Amidah'. "Al Hanissim" - we thank G-d for the miracles, the days of Mattathias the high priest, when the Greek-Syrians came and wanted to take away from us our political independence, our unique religious way of life. We fought back and we won. The many succumbed to the few. The wicked succumbed to the righteous.
But then there is a second miracle. And it almost seems as though there is no real purpose for this second miracle. When the Jews came to the Holy Temple, they found only one vial of pure oil that had been placed there by the high priest. It was only enough for one day, and it would take eight days to make enough pure oil to keep the Menorah, the candelabrum of the Holy Temple burning. But the Jews lit what was enough for one day, and the light lasted for eight days. So we light our Hanukkiot, our Hanukkah candelabra, for eight days. What was the necessity for this second miracle? I'd like to try to explain.
Close to two thousand years ago there was an enemy. That enemy in effect had two heads, a military head and an ideological head. Both were directed against Israel. The ideological head was paganism. The military head was political control and hegemony over the entire civilized world at that time. We fought back and we won. But I believe the Jewish tradition wanted to impress all future generations: Don't think that your victory was a military victory. Because as a military victory, perhaps you were better strategists. But that wasn't sufficient. The few could never overpower the many if you had not had an ideological ideal for which you were fighting. If there wasn't a certain light, a certain truth in which you believe that was so fundamental and so basic that gave you the wherewithal to overcome, against all odds, those who would destroy you.
On an even deeper level I would say, you won because you were fighting G-d's battle, because Hellenist paganism was darkness, and you represented the light. "Ki ner mitzvah veTorah or": The candle is light, is mitzvah. Torah is light. The Torah that teaches ethical monotheism. The Torah that teaches that you don't have to be Jewish to have a share in G-d, but you do have to keep the seven Noahide laws of morality, the most fundamental of which is: "Thou shall not murder." The paganism that didn't really value human life, the paganism that didn't understand the concepts such as compassion and justice, that paganism would have left the world in darkness. The Torah that teaches that our G-d is a G-d of compassion, and tolerance, and truth.
The little bit of light that was enough for one day and lasted for eight days tell us that if you have the light with you, you can be the few and you will overcome the many. But you will have to fight for light. You have to fight for truth. You have to fight for reverence for life. You have to fight for ethical monotheism. Part of the story was the victory in battle. What explains the story is the light of the Menorah, the light of Torah. A Torah of tolerance, reverence for life, compassion and truth.
I believe that we're living in one of the most fateful periods in all of history. What is already begun, from my perspective, is a Third World War--a war against Islamic fundamentalism. An Islamic fundamentalism which preaches victory by the sword. An Islamic fundamentalism that leaves absolutely no room for anyone who is not an Islamic fundamentalist. An Islamic fundamentalism that sees America as the big Satan; Israel is only the little Satan. Israel is small change.
Osama Bin Laden said it very well in his message to the world, two weeks ago. There will be another terrorist attack, "a major terrorist attack against the United States", he said, unless the United States stops supporting Israel, and unless the United States becomes Muslim.
We are now fighting a battle for religious tolerance; we are now fighting a battle against terrorism not only for the future of the Jews in Israel. Not only for the right of Jews to have their own state. Not only for Jews throughout the world who are being threatened--especially in Europe by a wave of anti-Semitism that is only reminiscent of 1938 Europe. But we are now fighting for world freedom; we're fighting for the future of civilization itself.
The enemy of Islamic fundamentalism knows no bounds, will strike out in Indonesia, in Kenya, in New York, in Washington, and of course all over Israel.
The message of Hanukkah is perhaps the most important message, that we must teach ourselves and then teach the world. A little light can push away a great deal of darkness. The few can overcome the many as long as the ideology for which they are fighting is the fundamental ideology of our Torah--which spawned the best of Christianity and Islam. A Torah of tolerance, a Torah of ethical monotheism, a Torah of justice, of compassion, of reverence for life.
Just as the Maccabbees won, we can and will win. We must believe in the rightness of our cause. And at the front of our battle must be the light of the Menorah, "ki ner mitzvah veTorah or". The candle is commandment, Torah is light. "Lehu venelha be'or HaShem" -- may we go in the light of G-d, a G-d who doesn't ask exclusivism for Judaism, but a G-d who does require that we beat our swords into ploughshares, our spears into pruning hooks--that we not learn war anymore. A G-d that suggests that everyone can call upon his G-d and we upon the Lord G-d forever, but a G-d who insists that there must be reverence for life and truth.