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Shabbat Parashat Miketz 5775

Ein Ayah: When the Greeks Entered the Temple

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:11)

Gemara: When the Greeks entered the heichal (Beit Hamikdash), they defiled all the oils in the heichal.


Ein Ayah: Chazal already highlighted the viewpoint of Israel on the wisdom, culture, and practices of the nations of the world. In comparing apparently contradictory criticism of the Israelites regarding following the practices of the other nations or not following them (Yechezkel 11:12 & 5:7), the gemara (Sanhedrin 39b) explains: “Like their proper practices you did not do; like their corrupt ones you did.” [In other words, there are some practices we should follow.] However, even when following the nations’ good practices, one must exercise caution, as it can cause one to be drawn to their corrupt practices as well.

The reliable principle that Israel should cling to in this regard is to be very vigilant, when occasionally seeing a good practice which they want to adopt, to not allow the overall spirit of the source nation in along with the practice. For once that spirit enters, there may be no stopping its progress, and the spirit of Israel will be pushed away from its place. This would be against the instruction that “no foreigner shall sit on his throne,” as the spirit of Israel must be strong and set. Rather, Torah and mitzvot must be the strength of Israel.

In an external manner, there is sometimes a need to improve society by taking a good practice from our neighbor nations. As long as our nation is firmly keeping Hashem’s Torah, adoption of such a practice does not mean that nation has encroached upon our borders. Rather, it is either that we go to take something from them or they bring to us something fitting to receive. This is as Chazal (Yoma 10a) learn about our relationship with Yefet – the yafyufit (attractive elements) of Yefet shall be found in the tents of Shem.

The spirit of Greece infiltrated into the sanctity of Israel and their warped values created new desires that entered into people’s inner lives. This created a situation that can be described as their entering the heichal and defiling all its oils. It is not only in areas in which Greek culture opposed ours that their negative impact was felt. Rather it affected Israel’s whole set of beliefs and characteristics, thereby lowering the sanctity and preventing goodness from Hashem’s nation.

It is important that we should have a firm pillar that teaches us in our time of exile to know how to interact with the non-Jewish nations and deal with their wisdom and practices. This teaching should help preserve the “Temple” within our lives and midst. We should not think that if there are just certain specific areas of integration of non-Jewish culture that the impact will be limited in scope to those areas, although that too would be enough reason to stay away from them. 

Unfortunately, those with weak ideas think we can be comforted by that which remains intact and the many elements of light which will give strength despite the points of contamination which entered deeply within us. Therefore, the Rabbis taught us that as soon as the Greeks (i.e., their cultural spirit) entered the heichal, (i.e., deep into our spiritual/intellectual Torah lives), they already defiled all the oils within the heichal. No corner survived, as their spirit spread like the venom of a snake through the body of the nation. They ruined the belief and the purity. All the “holy anointing oil of Torah,” which sanctifies and lights dark places that arise in all situations, were all affected.  Even if individual acts of Torah remain despite the foreign regime, they will be performed by rote by those who were seduced by the foreign spirit. Generally only secondary elements survive, and this “impure oil” did not have the power to light the holy lights.

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