Thoughts to Ponder Number 69
24 Kislev, 5761; December 21, 2000
Chanuka, Divine Emanations and
History, the study of cause and effect in the annals of mankind has been a serious hassle for honest historians. In many ways interpreting history is conjecture. It is more what one would like to believe happened than what actually occurred which motivates many a historian. (Benjamin Franklin) After all, how will man ever know what really was the cause and effect in a specific instance? Sometimes what we believe to be the cause is, rather, the effect.
Our sages have drawn our attention to this phenomenon when they deal with the sale of Joseph and his emancipation from prison. On the words, "A definite period was set to the world to spend in darkness" (Iyov 28:3), the Midrash states: "A definite number of years was fixed for Joseph to spend in prison, in darkness. When the appointed time came Pharao dreamed a dream, as it says: 'And it came to pass at the end of two years and Pharao dreamed a dream…'" (Bereshith 41:1, Midrash Rabbah)
Rabbi Gedalayah Shorr, in his monumental work, Ohr Gedalayah, points out that this observation radically differs from the traditional and academic way of dealing with historical events. In fact, it seems to challenge this approach and turn it on its head.
Reading the story in the traditional way, we would no doubt conclude that because Pharao dreamed a dream which required an interpretation, Joseph, known to be a man with prophetic insights into "traumdeutung" (dream interpretation) was asked to come and see Pharao. After successfully having solved the dreams he did not only receive his freedom, but was elevated to the position of second in command of Egypt. This would mean that Pharao's dream caused the freedom of Joseph.
Carefully reading our Midrash suggests the reverse. It was because Joseph had to become free and the viceroy of Egypt that Pharao had to have a dream. The cause was in fact the effect, and vice versa. Based on the earlier verse from the book of Iyov: "A definite period was set to the world to spend in darkness," the Midrash states that God had ordained how long Joseph would have to be in prison. Once that period had passed, God sent Pharao a dream so as to set Joseph free.
As mentioned before, this approach opens a completely new way of understanding history. Judaism suggests that at certain times, God sends emanations to this world so as to awaken men to act. Just like Pharao received his dreams so that Joseph's imprisonment would come to an end, so divine emanations are sent to this world so as to make human beings take action.
One example of this is the story of Chanuka. It was not that the Jews of those days believed that a revolt against the Greeks was at all possible. In fact, logically speaking there was no way the Jews would ever win such a war, but God caused a kind of psychological condition within the minds of a few Jews, the Maccabees, which resulted in a notion of revolt. The greatness of the Maccabees was that they reacted correctly on this heavenly "directive" and realized what needed to be done, however preposterous.
Midrashic literature often compares the Greek empire to "darkness which blinded the eyes of the Jews" ("Choshech ze Yavan.") The traditional interpretation of this is that the Jews in the days of the Maccabees were blinded by the Greek worship of the body and followed their example. It may, however, have a much deeper meaning. The Greeks are also the inventors of historical interpretation. Greek thinkers were among the first who tried to understand history in its more "scientific" form as reflected in the need to search for cause and effect. From the point of view of the Midrash this approach blinded the Jews from reading history as a result of emanations and their human response. It confused the deeper meaning of history, reversed effect with cause and "darkened" the clear insight of the Jews.
One of the most mysterious dimensions of the human psyche is the phenomenon of motivation and taste. Human beings suddenly hear an inner voice or feel a mysterious pull to do something the source of which they do not understand. This is not only true when discussing human actions, but even one's taste and preferences. History is full of examples in which man made radical changes in his propensities towards types of art and music. At one time certain melodies are considered to be superb and "irreplaceable" while half a century later they lose favor. So with art, fashion and even the color of our wallpaper.
There are no proper explanations for these phenomena (notwithstanding different scientific suggestions). We would argue that all of them are the result of different divine emanations which are sent to our world. While it is difficult to explain why these divine messages come, it may be suggested that as far as music and art are concerned, their main purpose is to give man a feeling of renewal and an insight into the infinite possibilities of Gods creation. Other messages may be the divine response towards man's earlier deeds or moral condition. The sudden predilections for more aggressive forms of music or art may be a warning that man has abated his earlier dignity.
When speaking of emanations like in the case of the Maccabees the main problem is to "hear" the message, to correctly interpret it and subsequently to know what it requires of us. This itself requires divine assistance and moral integrity.
Throughout their history, Jews have experienced many divine emanations. Several indications found in the later part of Tanach allude to the coming of the Mashiach at specific times. (See, for example, the book of Daniel.) Some of the dates for which commentators have found hints are long behind us and no Mashiach has appeared.
This, however, should not make us wonder. Whenever Jewish sources revealed dates of the coming of the Messianic Age, it is clear that these were in no way final statements. They were divine signals that at these times the world would be more favorable to the coming of the Mashiach. But, they were not a guarantee that he would definitely arrive. Once man failed to respond in the correct religious and moral way this special moment passed by without any result.
It does not take much effort to recognize that in our times we once more are confronted with new and powerful emanations from Above. One cannot deny the most unusual events which have taken place in the land of Israel in the last few months. On the verge of the establishment of a Palestinian state and having nearly all their wishes fulfilled, Palestinians have suddenly decided to undo all this in favor of guerilla warfare against the Jewish State which has brought them much self-imposed suffering and disaster. While all sorts of logical explanations have been offered by politicians and journalists, we are convinced that the Palestinians are themselves dumbfounded as to why they started this uprising just at the time when their independence was nearly finalized. We must therefore conclude that the utter absurdity of this situation is nothing other than the result of a divine emanation. It is not for us to suggest why this has befallen them, but we would like to suggest that as far the nation of Israel is concerned, the Palestinians have, like several nations in biblical times, become the divine medium carrying a strong warning towards the inhabitants of Israel that there is a need for a radical change in their hearts. The State of Israel is need of a major religious and moral revolution. Without such a move it will slowly but surely disintegrate, God forbid.
Only the lights of the menorah, representing the Torah, are the solution. It is up to all of us.
Nathan Lopes Cardozo
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