For the week of December 4, 1999 / 25 Kislev 5760
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 37:1 - 40:23 and
Hanukkah 1, Bemidbar / Numbers 7:1 - 17
Haftarah: Amos 2:6 - 3:8
Replaced by: Hanukkah, Zechariah 2:14 - 4:7
(English: 2:10 - 4:7)


See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you (Zechariah 3:4)

Even though the story of Hanukkah is not a Scriptural one, it is very important in both the history of the Jewish people and as background to the days of the New Covenant writings. The turn of events during the days of the Maccabees left an indelible stamp on the Jewish nation and its spirituality. For more information about this festival, see our special Hanukkah section.

One of the central themes of Hanukkah is also an on-going theme throughout the entire Bible – freedom from oppression. This was another time in Israel’s history that they faced great oppression by foreigners and in spite of overwhelming odds, won their freedom.

It is a great tragedy when people are oppressed. Life can be so wonderful! We have such potential to experience life’s beauty and goodness and yet millions of people in the world today are not free to express themselves or pursue the things that are in their hearts to do. Worse, many are prevented from accessing even the most basic necessities of life.

But is the essence of human oppression, societal and political? The fact is many who live in political and economic freedom also find themselves incapable of being all they were meant to be.

Some believe that this kind of internal oppression is just a state of mind. They would say that if you would only think differently, make the right choices, and refuse to give into negative energy, you would come into the freedom you long for.

This is the premise of certain books like the best seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. What underlies Covey’s teaching is the notion that humans possess the ability to move into freedom by the exercise of their will. Anyone can become effective through the nurturing of habits of thought and action.

How many people have read Covey’s book or one like it and have found it helpful? But they have found it helpful, not because they began to live better through it, but rather because it provided them with something to aspire to. Encountering the higher level of human existence that Covey espouses warms our hearts. But does it really make a difference? It doesn’t. That is because there are factors beyond our control that affect our personalities. The Torah calls these factors "sin."

The term sin describes how we fall short of the level of existence that God intended for us. Due to sin, no matter how much we strive to be truly free, we come up against what amounts to be an enemy that dwells deep within ourselves.

But that is not the end of the story. For just like the Maccabees of old, who, against overwhelming odds, experienced freedom, we can find personal freedom. How this can be so will be the subject of next week’s TorahByte.

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