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The Gibor and the Talmid in All of Us

12/03/2021 11:51:35 AM


One of the icons the early Halutzim, pioneers of the state of Israel, adopted was the Maccabees.  The Maccabees were the warriors of the Hanukkah story who stood up to the oppressive forces of the ancient Greeks.  In the world of the early Zionists, dictated by the Holocaust and overt government-sanctioned anti-Semitism, the reclaiming of the heritage of the Maccabees was seen as a necessity.  The Maccabees served as a symbol for who and what we were as a people. A heritage that we had long forgotten and abandoned, but one that was there and needed to be resurrected.

 The Halutzim wanted Jews to see themselves as brave and strong.  By adopting the Maccabees as the image of the early Halutzim, the early Zionists were creating what would be known as the new Jew.  The new Jew was strong and worked with their hands.  The image of the new Jew was an outright rejecting of the image of the studious (and in their mind) weak intellectuals who had suffered at the mercy of their oppressors for centuries.

Chiam Nachman Bialik, the famous Jewish poet who lived during the founding and establishment of the state of Israel, attempts to articulate the need for transition from passive Jewish victim to active Jewish warrior in his poem “City of Slaughter” (for the full poem click here). What follows is an excerpt from this poem in which he attempts to articulate the desire to reclaim the heritage that the Maccabees left us:

How did their menfolk bear it, how did they bear this yoke? They crawled forth from their holes, they fled to the house of the Lord, They offered thanks to Him, the sweet benedictory word. The Cohanim sallied forth, to the Rabbi's house they flitted: Tell me, O Rabbi, tell, is my own wife permitted? The matter ends; and nothing more. And all is as it was before.

Come, now, and I will bring thee to their lairs 
The privies, jakes and pigpens where the heirs 
Of Hasmoneans lay, with trembling knees, 
Concealed and cowering,—the sons of the Maccabees! 
The seed of saints, the scions of the lions! 
Who, crammed by scores in all the sanctuaries of their shame, 
So sanctified My name! 

What Bialik was unable to see is the value in the heritage of the Jewish intellectual.  He was unable to see that it is the merging of the warrior Maccabee and the intellectual Talmid (student) is what is needed for us as spiritual Jews and humans. 

As Jews our spiritual birthright is absolutely questioning and exploring. However, it is also standing up against tyranny and oppression.  Being intellectuals does not have to negate being strong.  We can both be strong Giborim (warriors) and curious Tamidim.  In combining the two we become Oseh Shalom, makers of peace and wholeness in heaven and earth. 

Being truly whole spiritually means embracing our strength and power as well as our intellect.  The early pioneers of the state of Israel felt we had lost the virtue of being strong.  Due to this, they reclaimed the image of the Maccabee, the warrior.  Today we need this image of the Maccabee to unite with the image of the Talmid, the student.  In this way we become the Chasid, the righteous person. 

The error that Bialik and the pioneers made was they threw the baby out with the bathwater.  It is not one or the other.  Life is not to choose to be either the warrior or to be the intellectual.  Living is to recognize that both tendencies are in our soul and are vital to our full spiritual realization.  May this Hannukah be a rededication to the warrior and learner in all of us.  In this way we can become one who stands up bravely for Shalom and Tikkun olam so that our world may know light once again.

Mon, December 5 2022 11 Kislev 5783