Cry of Grace
The haftora that we read on Channuka ends with an rebuke to Zerubavel’s opponents. “Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubavel (you will) become a plain. He will bring out the cornerstone, with cheers of ‘grace, grace!’ for it” (Zechariah 4:7).
Zerubavel was attempting to lay the foundations of the Second Temple and there were many who opposed him. The prophet compares his opponents to a great mountain. As Zerubavel takes out the cornerstone for the Temple the great mounatin will turn into a plain, in other words his opponents will simply dissipate. And when people see that cornerstone of the Temple they will loudly express their excitement over the beauty of this stone. The power of the cornerstone to blow away the enemies of Israel lies in its grace and beauty.
The opponents that we faced during the days of the Second Temple were also known for their beauty. Noach’s son, Yaphes, received a blessing of beauty which our teachers apply to Greece (B. Talmud Megila 9b). The culture that oppressed us during those times was a culture that idolized the beauty of the human being. Not only did they develop the human body but they also cultivated a philosophy that brought out the power of the human mind. The Greek ideal was a person who is graced with beauty and sophistication both physically and mentally. And they attempted to draw all of mankind into the circle of their search for grace and beauty.
As a general rule, the various cultures that the Greeks encountered succumbed to the allure of the Greek worldview. The Western worldview is rooted in the Greek philosophy that venerates the beauty of this world.
But the Jewish people did not surrender to the appeal of Greece and her worldview. We opposed them tooth and nail. Our teachers taught us that all of the beauty worshiped by Greece is but darkness (Bereishis Rabba 44:17).
The power of our resistance to Greece and her culture is rooted in that cornerstone that Zerubavel put down to lay the foundation of the Second Temple. You see, it is not that we have no appreciation for beauty. Our strength lies in that we have a different standard of beauty and grace. The cornerstone of the temple is where the Creator of heaven and earth touches this world. And God touches this world in the heart of the person who lives out His commandments.
The ideal human being is not one who is immersed in this material world. Our understanding of an ideal human being is one allows the light of the Creator to shine through his actions. When a person submits to the will of God as expressed in His commandments and steps forth to fulfill His purpose on earth, there you have the ideal man. In honesty, in kindness, in truth, in morality and in holiness, that is where we find beauty and our grace.
At this point in time the darkness of Greece reigns and the world at large does not appreciate the true beauty of life. But the lights of Channuka testify that this situation is but temporary. The day will yet come when all of mankind will recognize the beauty of humanity accepting the sovereignty of God. And they will abandon the darkness of Greece, and they will embrace the beauty of the Torah with cries of “grace, grace to it.”
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal