The Missing Passion Of Chanukah

There is something curiously missing from our telling of the Chanukah story. Rabbi Avraham Grodzinski points out that in the telling of the story of Purim — the other Rabbinically enacted holiday — there is a clear cause and effect; a continuum is very clearly identifiable. In the story of Purim we sinned by partaking in the extravagant feasting and by bowing down to idols. These sins were what allowed the evil forces to gain a foothold against us. This much is clear from Chazal. When we, in turn, fasted, we were led to salvation. There was sin, repentance, salvation — all connected along a clear line.

Conversely, this organization and clarity seems to be utterly lacking in our telling of the story of Chanukah. What exactly was the sin that led our vulnerability during the times of Chanukah? What was it that allowed our enemy to succeed and accomplish the destruction that they did?

An Attack On Culture

Al HaNisim, and the various other sources that discuss the story of Chanukah, all stress that the Greeks wanted to destroy Jewish culture. Very little is said, however, about our reaction at the time to this fact. It is fair to say that we weren’t exactly keen on the idea, but perhaps we were guilty of the even greater crime of indifference.

Assimilation can occur because of an active willingness and purposeful adoption of another culture. But assimilation can also occur when one pursues nothing, instead leaving oneself open to the influence of others. When one cares about nothing, he or she actually cares about the things that others do.

Passion is to stand for something, and it was passion that was lacking from the Jewish nation during the times of Chanukah.


It is not a good thing to be open to absolutely anything and everything, no matter how crazy or contradictory. The ideal reaction to every proposition is most certainly not indifference.

Indifference is extremely pervasive in Western culture. There is often a lack of any true passion. Reactions to ideas are often met not with hate or love, but with sheer indifference; a shrug of the shoulder. The words “I guess” are a common refrain. We “go with the wind” and “fly by the seat of our pants”. This is a lack of passion. This is indifference.

Devorah & Passion

What was it that made Devorah great? The Navi informs us:

Judges 4:4:

וּדְבוֹרָה אִשָּׁה נְבִיאָה אֵשֶׁת לַפִּידוֹת הִיא שֹׁפְטָה אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּעֵת הַהִיא
Now Devorah was a woman prophetess, “the wife of Lappidos”; she judged Israel at that time.

This posuk is troubling on two levels, however. First, Lappidos does not exist anywhere else in all of Tanach. Second, the Navi states that Devorah married a Barak, not a Lappidos.

Radak, for one, explains that, in fact, Barak and Lappidos are the same person. They are both words that mean “light”; they are one and the same.

Rashi takes a different route. Rashi points out that the term “אֵשֶׁת לַפִּידוֹת” does not have to mean “the wife of Lappidos”. In the same way that “אֵשֶׁת חַֽיִל” does not literally translate to “the wife of Chayil”, but instead means “a woman of valor”, Rashi explains that “אֵשֶׁת לַפִּידוֹת” does not identify Devorah’s husband, but rather a character trait of hers. Specifically, Rashi explains that Devorah was one of the primary people in charge of making the wicks needed for the Mishkan. Metzudas Dovid take things a step further, though, and explains that “Lappidos” refers to the fact that Devorah was energetic; her actions were like a fire, a flame — the literal translation of “Lappidos”. In a word, Devorah had passion.

A shrug of the shoulders will not cut it. Energy and passion is needed if we are to bring God into this world. Nothing great was ever accomplished with indifference. Only with the passion of the flame are we to build the world.

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