During the festival of Chanukah, we celebrate the Jewish victory over Hellenist philosophy and culture. The Greeks, who held the philosophy that the world is primordial, captivated the minds of a great percentage of the Jewish People, who adopted their beliefs and culture. The rekindling of the menorah in the Temple indicated the victory of Jewish wisdom over Hellenistic philosophy.
In Kabbalah and Chassidut, the Jewish victory over the Hellenists is the victory of “renewed creation” – the Jewish belief that the world was created ex nihilo – over “primordiality” – the belief that the world has existed forever. The Greeks wished to abolish our observance of Rosh Chodesh (the New Moon), Shabbat and circumcision. These are the three mitzvahs that most reflect renewed creation.
Sefer Yetzirah (the Book of Formation) is the basic text of Kabbalah. It defines three dimensions in reality: olam (world), shanah (year) and nefesh (soul). The coordinate of “soul” as defined by Sefer Yetzirah, relates to good versus evil, which can only be evaluated by a conscious mind. These three dimensions thus correspond to space, time and “consciousness.” Each of these three dimensions is created anew, corresponding to one of the mitzvahs to which the Hellenists objected:
- Shabbat is the general renewal of the world (space).
- The New Moon is renewal in the time dimension (time).
- Circumcision represents renewal in the soul (value, measured by “consciousness”).
The mitzvah that reflects our belief in the creation of the physical world and the universe in general – the “space” coordinate – is Shabbat, which commemorates God’s creation of the world and His rest on the seventh day. Shabbat celebrates the renewal of the world through creation, and is related to time in general.
In contrast, the monthly renewal of the moon is an empirical time cycle. Therefore, the New Moon is our experience of the specific renewal of time.
God gave Abraham, the first Jew, the mitzvah of circumcision, which has become the definition of his descendants. Being circumcised is the essence of a Jew. That essence is our ability to constantly experience renewal in our psyches.
In keeping with ancient Greek philosophy, scientific consensus until the middle of the 20th century was that the world is primordial. In 1948, cosmologist George Gamow published his papers on the Big Bang, which hypothesizes that all the energy and matter that exist in our universe came into existence ex-nihilo at one split second of time about 13.8 billion years ago (according to current scientific research). Although initially disputed, his theory is now accepted by most scientists in every scientific field. With the advent of the Big Bang, science has acknowledged that creation transpired ex-nihilo. This change in accepted scientific philosophy is a tremendous advance toward belief in the Jewish “renewed creation” principle.