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THE GREATEST SPIN ON YOUR LIFE

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THE GREATEST SPIN ON YOUR LIFE

Parashat Miketz

The Beit Yosef asks, Why do we celebrate the miracle of the candles for eight days? There was no miracle on the first day, for all candles burn, naturally. So why don’t we celebrate only seven days?

The answer of R Tzadok is a great lesson: that when the miracle of the candles occurred, they realized that the very fact that candles burn is a miracle. (פרי צדיק – חנוכה כה) Because all of nature is a miracle. The Ramban, in Parashat Bo, (13;16) teaches that the reason why we mention the Exodus in so many mitzvoth that we perform,(Kiddush, Sukkot, Pesach, Shema recital, Tefillin, tzitzit, Mezuzah, etc.) is because that is a sign that G-d rules every part of nature. G-d could have brought one plague and finished with the Egyptians. But G-d wanted to show the world, ONCE AND FOR ALL, that He controls all ten aspects of nature that He subjected to plagues (S. HaChinuch 21). R’ Chazkel says that it is recommended to learn this Ramban once every thirty days. Because it is so, so easy to forget.

R Tzaddok continues. Why is the “miracle of nature” embedded within the Chanukah miracle? Why, specifically on Chanukah, do we need to remember this lesson that the laws of nature are nothing more than G-d’s Will? The answer to this question is the underlying message of Chanukah, and what Yehuda HaMaccabee and his brothers put their lives on the line for. To fight the Greek philosophy that there is an independent concept of Science and Nature in the Universe not related to G-d.

The Greek culture had its roots in the teachings of Aristotle. Aristotle was not only a philosopher. He was a forefather of education in all areas. He encouraged Alexander the Great to capture the world, in order to make it an educated one, instead of a barbaric one. Aristotle introduced the concept of logic to the secular world. Deduction. Math. Science. If you can’t prove it, it does not exist. If you cannot prove that a bris makes someone holier, or that the Rabbis can rule nature by deciding when the new moon is, or that the seventh day is any holier than the sixth –  if you cannot prove these things, chas veshalom, they do not exist. Aristotle taught his disciples to challenge and question everything. This makes Aristotle’s teachings problematic, in that they advocate questioning the existence of G-d. מה למעלה ומה לאחור.(Tamid 32a)

Out of all the games possible, the children studying Torah in the caves on Chanukah pulled these dreidels out to play with. This always bothered me, especially because the letters נס גדול היה שם  were not yet applicable. But the meaning is now clear. The message of the Dreidel was the idea that the problem with Aristotle’s “science” and Greek Culture is, what, exactly, makes the science a science? What makes the world spin, fire burn, or heat rise? What is the difference, scientifically, between a live body and a dead one; if all the parts are there, what made it stop working? Who is making the heart pump, or the mind think? The world of science definitely does not have all the answers. The world is being sustained by G-d’s Will. People are breathed by G-d! If G-d wants a sea to split, fire not to burn, the dead to live … science is not an issue. Whether it makes sense according to scientific laws or not, His Will rules.

And this is the lesson of the Dreidel. When you do not spin the dreidel “from above”, it lies, lifeless, on the table. The fact that it is spinning, means that someone has made it spin! The world that we see is the greatest proof that it did not “happen on its own”. And that is the miracle of nature, the miracle of the first candle. And the lesson of the additional night.

In last week’s article I mentioned a quote from Napoleon Hill, author of “Think and Grow Rich”, the forefather of modern day self-help books. I got an email complaint, asking how I could have cited wisdom from a man who himself was not successful in making money other than by teaching others how to. Why take the advice and the wisdom from someone who, himself, was not successful?

I replied that the fact that he did not make money in his lifetime, does not mean that he had no wisdom. לא לחכמים לחם. Bread does not belong to the Wise. (Kohelet 9 11) This common irony, that those people who write best-selling books on self help and advice who themselves were not successful in those areas, exists because G-d wants to show the world that success is up to Him, not up to your wisdom. For success is not a science. If G-d does not spin your dreidel, no matter how good your plan and efforts are, your dreidel will not spin. If G-d wants something to happen, it will happen. G-d wanted Bill Gates to become rich, so He made him the owner of Microsoft. It is not that because Bill Gates owned Microsoft he became wealthy. There were others who could have done it or may have tried to do it as well, but G-d did not want them to become wealthy, so they failed. “Results” are not due to science that is independent of G-d. So, even if Napoleon Hill was right about the secrets of success, if G-d does not put His seal of approval on those methods, it just won’t happen.

It was almost certain, and completely logical and to be expected, that the butler would have remembered Yosef earlier. Every time he went to tell Pharaoh, as he entered the palace, he forgot. When he left the palace, he remembered, and when he reentered he forgot, again and again. Everyday. For two years. Because when G-d does not want something to happen, He simply does not spin the dreidel. Even the dreidel of your knowledge. Aristotle once asked R’ Yossi, “What is a wise person?” According to Judaism, that G-d is the one who spins the dreidel of success and knowledge, who is wise? Is the amount that I was able to come up with through “logic” also dependent on G-d? And if according to Judaism, G-d is in control of what I remember and what I forget, and when, so who then is considered Wise? To that R’ Yossi answered, Being considered a wise person is not determined by how much you know or how much you use your logic. Your wisdom is determined by your willingness to live according to the principles of truth that you have learned. Because the only success that we are in control of, is becoming a better person.(בראשית רבתי פרשת מקץ 189) (Aristotle was caught behaving different than some of his moral teachings.)

The Talmud mentions a conversation between Aristotle’s student, Alexander the Great, and the Sages. Alexander asked, Who is wise? The Rabbis answered… One who can foresee the outcome. …Who is Strong?… One who overcomes his Inclination… Who is rich?… One who is happy with his lot…(Tamid 32a)

Alexander wanted to hear the perspective of the Torah to self-help and productivity. He wanted to learn a fresh perspective on what is considered success. Because if G-d is in charge of results, then who is considered a successful businessman? It could be that the successful businessman ends up being a poor person, who never made a dollar! The victor could be the weaker of two combatants, just because G-d wanted him to win! So, who is really the Mighty? The Rabbis answered, that “your” success is not defined by external results, which are in the hands of G-d. But on how you better your nature. By working on becoming a better person.

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