Rabbi Oury Cherki
Philosophy and Prophecy
It is true that the nation-state which the Chashmona’im established was destroyed long ago, and this is very likely the reason that “Megillat Ta’anit” was removed from the holy books, but the holiday of Chanukah has not been cancelled. The inner spiritual reason for this, which appears in the statement in the Talmud that the basis of the holiday is “in order to publicize the miracle” [Rosh Hashanah 18b], is that the cultural war which began in the days of the Chashmona’im did not end in their era but rather continued for a very long time.
It would seem that this can best be understood based on the analysis by Rabbi Avraham Bibago, a great Spanish Torah scholar, in the book, “Derech Emunah” – the way of faith. Rabbi Avraham asked why the exile of Edom lasted for such a long time as compared to the exiles of Egypt and Babylon, which lasted for 210 and 70 years, respectively. He replies that the purpose of each exile was to clarify the difference between the Divine intellect – that is, prophecy – and one of the approaches that competed with it.
In Egypt, the competing element was sensory feeling. That is, the ancient Egyptian culture developed the abilities of the senses to their ultimate level, as could be seen in the magic and the wisdom of the sorcerers of the Land of Egypt.
In Babylon, prophecy competed with imagination. This consists of the ability of the Babylonians to develop the world of imagination in such fields as dreams, astronomy, and in their studies of angels.
These conflicts could be resolved in a relatively short time, with prophecy gaining the upper hand over the alternatives. However, the objective in Edom is to show the difference between the exalted intellect which is a unique trait of Yisrael, and what Rabbi Avraham Bibago calls the “sense of understanding.” It is clear that he intends this as a shorthand description of Greek philosophy, which presents itself as being equal to Jewish philosophy, but in the end is merely related to the senses, in that its first contacts begin with the senses. However, since the distinction between these two approaches is a very fine line, this exile will continue until they can be differentiated.
This approach of Rabbi Bibago was vindicated as the generations proceeded. The failure of the philosophical approach became clear through the thinking of Immanuel Kant. He tried to find the roots of pure understanding and in the end concluded that this is impossible, because all understanding is based on the senses. And from then on, philosophy reached a dead end, from which it has not been able to recover.
Near Kant’s death, an idea came up for the first time in the international realm to establish a renewed state for the Jews, in a statement by Napoleon when he captured Eretz Yisrael. When the controversy with philosophy came to an end, there was no longer any need for the exile. The miracle of the cruse of oil had achieved its goal and the time had come to return to Zion and renew the nationalistic significance of Chanukah.
In recent generations there have been attempts to revitalize the subject of “Jewish philosophy,” based on an assumption that there is no significant difference between the lessons to be learned from the Tanach and the values of humanism. However, in truth, the word of G-d – that is, prophecy – cannot be minimized to fit into the dimension of human understanding. Speech is a manifestation of Divine will and not a general law of nature. Therefore the mission for our generation is to renew the culture of prophecy, which will be the source of the dissemination of Torah from Zion, with the goal of lighting up the moral darkness and the understanding of the world.