Drosho for Mikeitz 5764

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Jan 1, 2004
Parshas Mikeitz 5764

I wonder if you ever realized that bumper stickers played an important role in the story of חנוכה.

In Israel you can identify someone's politics immediately by their bumper sticker: שלום לך חבר, אין ערבים אין פיגועים, חברון שלנו etc.

We tend to think of bumper stickers as a modern invention but it seems there was an ancient equivalent:

Midrash - ... זה גלות יון, שהחשיכו עיניהם של ישראל בגזירותיהם, שהיתה אומרת לישראל כתבו על קרן השור שאין לכם חלק באלוקי ישראל.

Why על קרן השור?

Many explanations have been offered but perhaps the simplest is that an ox was the ancient equivalent of a car. No one had a car, of course, and few people had even horses, but an in agricultural society almost everyone had an ox. So if you wanted to put up a bumper sticker where would you do it? On the ox!

Basically - writing על קרן השור that אין לנו חלק כו' was sort of like sporting a bumper sticker - דרוס כל דוס.

The מהר"ל offers an additional explanation of why this bumper sticker - אין לנו חלק באלקי ישראל - was to be placed על קרן השור. It was to arouse the memory of the חטא העגל.

I believe that the מהר"ל is saying something important - but it needs to be fleshed out.

Where does Jewish identity begin? Where is the fountainhead of Jewish nationhood? הר סני. That was the formative experience of כלל ישראל, and the definitive experience - it defines what it means to be a Jew.

רס"ג - אין אומתנו אומה אלא בתורתה.

The traditional understanding of Jewish identity begins with הר סני. To the extent that we connect to הר סני, to the extent that our behavior and beliefs are rooted in הר סני, to that extent we are connected to the root of Jewish identity, and to that extent our behavior is authentically Jewish.

There were always, of course, lapsed Jews, Jews who found the yoke of Torah and מצוות burdensome and rejected them; but it was traditionally understood that such a person had left his Judaism behind.
However, while we associate הר סני with the giving of the Torah, there was another, very different event that also took place at הר סני - the חטא העגל. And so the very fountainhead of our national existence was sullied by that first terrible foray into עבודה זרה. חז"ל express this so strongly: עלובה כלה שזנתה תוךחופתה.

And one of the terrible reprecusions of the חטא העגל is that it opened up the possibility - the temptation - to define Jewish existence and Jewish identity in a new way - in terms, not of תורה, not of אלוקי ישראל, but of עבודה זרה.

And that temptation was very real. At the time of the split into מלכות יהודה and מלכות ישראל, ירבעם placed עגלי זהב - one in בית אל and one in דן. No accident that he chose עגלי זהב. Jews had always been tempted by local ע"ז. But ירבעם was not interested in foreign ע"ז. He was creating a Jewish state, whose identity, however, would not be connected with the worship of הקב"ה in ירושלים. And so he needed a Jewish ע"ז, a way to define Jewish identity without recourse to the בית המקדש and what it represents.

Strange as it seems to us, for ירבעים and his people the עגל הזהב was a Jewish symbol. It was their own ע"ז, forged in the very first moments of Jewish nationhood.

ירבעם defined Jewish identity as it had always been defined - in terms of הר סני; but he stood that definition on its head, by making the critical moment of הר סני not קבלת התורה but, rather, the חטא העגל, and the denial of אלקי ישראל.

And that is what the יונים wanted as well. I spoke last week about the fact that the Greeks were allied with a large part of Jews who wanted to ape Greek culture and Greek religion. These were not individual renegade Jews, but a party, a faction - a fifth column - within the body of the Jewish people who wanted to define Jewish identity in a new way. A way that would not encumber them with the moral and religious strictures that made it difficult for them to embrace Greek culture. They didn't want to merely walk away from Judaism - they wanted to redefine Judaism, to turn it against itself, so that Judaism would now mean: אין לנו חלק באלקי ישראל, a denial of everything that we had accepted at הר סני.

And the Midrash expresses that desire by saying that they sought to write those words על קרן השור - to follow in the footsteps of ירבעם בן נבט and redefine Judaism, by rooting it - not in the תורה, but in the חטא העגל; to make the חטא העגל the defining moment in Jewish history.

And that was the enemy and the threat that we defeated on חנוכה.

This temptation - to redefine the meaning of Judaism so that it no longer includes קבלת התורה - is on of the central themes of modern Jewish history since the emancipation.

What was Reform Judaism if not such a redefinition? There had always been Jews who walked away from observance, but Reform Judaism's platform was to define Judaism itself in terms that would not include Torah and מצוות or, indeed, anything except a vague ethical commitment. That is the modern equivalent of writing על קרן השור that אין לנו חלק באלקי ישראל.

But the arena where this struggle over the definition of Judaism, of what it means to be Jewish, has been most bitterly fought, is within the Zionism movement.

Since the second Zionist Congress in 1898 - where a large religious delegation was dismayed by the declared goal of many secular delegates of de-rabinizing the communities of Europe - there has been a struggle for the soul of the Zionist movement, between those who saw its mission as the fulfillment of the age-old yearning of the Jewish people to return to their homeland, and those who saw it as a movement to redefine Judaism in a new and radical way - in wholly nationalistic terms, without reference to אלקי ישראל.

In the early days of the ישוב Eliezer ben Yehudah wrote an article in which he proclaimed: We have turned our back on Jewish history; and that is our pride and glory, that we have rejected everything that Judaism has hirtherto represented. That article elicited an anguished and bitter response by R' Kook, who argued that the returnt to ארץ ישראל is meaningful only if it is a return to our roots, and not a rejection of them.

And this same struggle continues today. We here in America hear only its occasional echo, as when an Israeli MK travelled to Europe a few weeks ago and declared, to a European audience, that Orthodox Jews are racists, and are taught racism in their schools; or when Yossi Beilin recently published a book in which he wrote that the great enemy of Israel is not the Arabs but Judaism itself. But in Israel it is an everyday reality, a protracted struggle for the soul of the nation. And it is our struggle too, and it is important that we not be indifferent to it.

It is the age old struggle between the מכבים and the Hellenists, between those who raised the banner of מי לה' אלי, and those who raised the banner of אין לנו חלק באלקי ישראל. It is the struggle over whether the defining moment of Jewish history was קבלת התורה, or the חטא העגל. It is the struggle that we fought and won on חנוכה, and which, בס"ד, we shall win again.


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