By Five Towns Marriage Initiative
The seeds were planted many, many years before the actual event some 1,700 years later. The flood was over. Noach left the ark and immediately began to cultivate the decimated earth by planting a vineyard. He took its produce, made wine, and fell asleep unclothed in a drunken stupor. Noach’s two sons, Shem and Yafes, stumbled onto this sight, whereupon they immediately covered their father. When Noach woke up and realized what had happened, he blessed his sons saying, “Yaft Elokim l’Yefes v’yishkon b’ohalei Shem” (Bereishis 9:27). Yafes’s boundaries would be extended and Hashem would dwell in the house of Shem. Noach was alluding to the fact that not only would Yafes eventually grow into a tremendous empire, expanding his borders through much of the known world, but that it would also be yafeh, beautiful, by expanding all physical, aesthetic boundaries, as well. This blessing came to fruition as Yafes’s descendants became the vast empire of Yavan, the notorious Syrian Greeks of the Chanukah story, while Shem’s children eventually became the holy nation of Klal Yisrael.
“Yafeh” was the hallmark of Yavan. They were the pinnacle of civilization at the time in terms of sheer military might. They also placed an inordinate focus on the body and its external beauty. The abundance of Greek mythology and its inherent immorality, Greek plays, and athletic events, all were integral to the wholly externally focused Greek culture. This was all forecast in Noach’s original blessing.
Shem’s blessing, on the other hand, appeared to be on a smaller scale—no world dominance, or anything seemingly life-altering. “Only” that Hashem would dwell amongst the people of Shem. In truth, Shem’s blessing was far more profound and world-changing, since the Greek culture has evaporated with the wind, while Judaism is eternal and affects the very fabric of the world.
Yafes’s blessing is external in nature, since this was how he approached his duty to cover his father. He was concerned only externally; how does it affect me that my father is in a compromising position? Whereas Shem was involved more internally and was genuinely concerned about his father’s honor and thereby covered him up to truly fulfill the mitzvah of kibud av, honoring one’s father. (Ohr Gedalyahu, Chanukah)
The Rama explains that in the Diaspora we light Chanukah candles inside our homes, whereas in Eretz Yisrael the custom is to generally light outside. The reason is that it is our mission during this time to look inward, into our homes, like a Jew truly should. However, in the holiest land in the world, there is less distraction, enabling people to look internally without the added need to light indoors.
During the very dark times preceding the Chanukah miracle, Antiochus instituted three decrees attempting to ban the foundational tenets of Judaism—rosh chodesh, b’ris milah, and Shabbos. By observing Chanukah, we are marking all three. Rosh Chodesh Teves always falls during Chanukah; the festival is eight days long, alluding to an eight-day-old baby receiving his bris; and there is at least one Shabbos that always occurs during Chanukah, as well. (Rav Dovid Cohen)
Antiochus was fully aware that if these three mitzvos would not be kept, it would unravel the very fabric of the Jewish people’s faith. Rosh Chodesh is the vehicle by which our entire calendar is established; a child cannot enter into the covenant without receiving a bris; and Shabbos is the very testimony of our faith as to why we are believing, practicing Jews.
Yet Shabbos has another component, as well. When the woman heralds the Shabbos queen into her home by lighting candles Friday night, she is also ushering harmony into her house (Maseches Shabbos 23). Yavan was so externally focused; perhaps they knew the power of the primary internal vehicle in Judaism—a deep, peaceful marriage and home. Therefore, they went to great lengths to prevent it from occurring, thereby banning the very observance of Shabbos.
During this time, it is our duty to focus inward, on ourselves and on our marriages, in order to be the antithesis of Yafeh, of the Greek culture, and champion the internally focused Jewish nation, where, “V’yishkon Elokim b’ohalei Shem,” G‑d will dwell in the tents of Shem. v
Five Towns Marriage Initiative provides educational programs, workshops, and referrals to top marriage therapists. FTMI will help offset counseling costs when necessary and also runs an anonymous shalom bayis hotline for the entire community Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings, 10:00–11:00 p.m. For the hotline or for more information, call 516-430-5280 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.