By Rabbi Shawn Zell
Betcha didn’t know that Chanukah can never begin on a Monday evening. It then follows that Tuesday can never be the first day of the Festival of Lights. Even though definitive explanations are sorely lacking for this phenomenon, I should like to attempt to provide an answer. Tuesday was the only day of creation where we read: “And G-d saw that it was good” twice. The only other day that comes somewhat close, is the sixth and final day of creation, where we read: “And G-d saw that it was very good”. While one can speculate, what caused G-d to accord Tuesday double approval, perhaps it is time to shed light on the corollary of G-d’s double vision.
Chanukah is predicated upon, the Jewish people seeing that Greek civilization, an anathema to the Torah, was good. Jews in ancient Israel were head over heels when it came to the way Greeks emphasized the human body. Judaism’s respect for the human body could not compete with Greek glorification of the human body. Add to that, the sense of ecstasy provided by the human body in Greek culture, it is a miracle that only some Jews, however many, were prepared to cast off the teachings of the Torah, while Greeks were casting off their apparel. However impressive a double dose of “G-d saw it was good” might have been, it soon fell out of focus, as Hellenized Jews stared at that which as tantalizing. It might very well be, that it would be in the poorest of taste to begin the festival of Chanukah on Tuesday, the very day that G-d merely saw, yet the Hellenists stared.
Chanukah serves as a denunciation of Greek logic. Chanukah stresses that which is contrary to logic. One message of Chanukah, is that small, ill-equipped, poorly trained armies, do in fact defeat large well-equipped, well-trained armies in battle. The other message of Chanukah is that a limited one-day supply of oil proceeds to burn for an additional seven days. Combined, these two phenomena thumbed their noses at Greek logic. To be sure, logic plays a significant role in Judaism as well. Nevertheless, Judaism is constantly cautioning us, to leave a little to G-d. It may very well be, that Hellenized Jews were also prepared to leave a little to G-d as well, provided they cast most of their lot to Athena, Apollo, and Zeus. As such, it was entirely possible that these same Jews, in contemplating Judaism, saw that it was good. In contemplating Hellenism however they saw that it was better. Being reminded that many Jews saw that an alternate system was better, on the very same day that G-d saw it was good – twice no less, is not a very good day to begin the festival of Chanukah.
I have no idea how many misunderstood words appear in the English language. I do know, that “perfect” is one of them. In my opinion, “perfect” should be at the top of the list. On the one hand, the Torah tells us that G-d is perfect (Deuteronomy 32:4); on the other hand, we learn that G-d a jealous and avenging G-d, G-d avenges and is filled with wrath (Nachum 1:2). Such a dichotomy can only exist when one applies the Greek concept of perfect to G-d. “Perfect” as understood by the ancient Greeks is immutable and unchangeable. “Perfect” as understood by Judaism, means “as good as it gets”. Unlike us mere mortals, G-d’s jealousy is well-founded, as is His vengeance and His wrath. Furthermore, G-d is neither immutable nor unchangeable. The exact opposite is the case. Changing G-d’s mind is one excellent reason for prayer. Chanukah is the only festival that embodies these attributes. When G-d witnessed the jealousy, vengeance, and wrath of the Chashmonaim, He was so moved, (in contradistinction to the Greek “immutable”) that He rewarded the human act of “few against many” with a Divine “few against many”. How then, can the festival of Chanukah possibly begin on a Tuesday, a day that emphasizes “and G-d saw it was good” when its root cause was Hellenized Jews errantly adapting themselves to Greek culture so that in their eyes, they saw “it was perfect”?
Typically, Tuesday is an auspicious day. Many Jewish weddings take place on Tuesday. Tuesday adds a new dimension to changes undertaken in one’s life, such as moving to a new home. Come Chanukah, a festival brought about by Hellenists staring at the human body, instead of focusing on the spiritual, a celebration reminding us that even though Hellenists may have seen good in their Judaism, they saw better being offered by the outside world, a time of year when Hellenists set their sights on perfect rather than good, it is understandable why the festival does not begin on Tuesday(Monday after dark), a day emphasized by G-d seeing that it was good.