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Section:  Avodah   Category: Innocent Observations
Why The Vilna Gaon Did Not Light An Electric Menorah
On one hand in the history of mankind the geniuses of the past towered over today's leading figures, both in the Jewish and non-Jewish world.  Has there ever been another Aristotle?  What about a Rambam?  Can we comprehend a Rava or Abaye?  Galileo or Newton?  A mind like the Vilna Gaon?  Yet even the richest men alive back then lived what we consider pathetic lives compared to the luxuries that we considered fairly average today.  How can we explain this paradox?

In Parshas Mikeitz there is a story that is hard to fathom.  Yosef. who was a slave and had been imprisoned in a dungeon for 12 years, is taken before the King of the world's mighty empire.  Why?  Well, the King had a weird dream and rumor has it that Yosef is good with weird dreams.  Yosef explains the dream, the King likes his interpretation, and and just like that Yosef is made the second most powerful person on planet earth.  How do you explain that?!?

The answer to both these questions may lie in the shifting aspirations of man throughout the ages.  Rav Chatzkel Levenstein says that once upon a time people were spiritual.  They understood there was a Hashem and yearned to be close to Him.  They actually gained more pleasure and satisfaction that way than through any other means.  Of course the Yetzer Hara was hard at work and confused them, leading to grave blunders in the world's thinking and bringing on the era of Avodah Zara.  However these people remained spiritual and that was their life's entire pursuit.

Not so coincidentally at around the time the Anshei Knesses HaGedola abolished the Yetzer Hara of avodah zara, Greek culture rose to prominence.  The only way to get rid of avodah zara was to quench people's desire for Godliness and spirituality.  Out of the ashes was born a new yetzer hara, tricking and trapping people within the realm of their new life's pursuits, namely the worship of the human body and mind.  This is a cycle that continued throughout the ages as the intellectuals of each generation focused on various pursuits with which to enrich their lives.

Necessity is the mother of invention, goes the saying.  In all the generations gone by, the most powerful minds were put to use exploring different fields of intellect and emotion.  There was no need or desire to harness electricity.  Whatever for?  Do you not beleive that Socrates or the Rashba or the Vilna Gaon were not capable of discovering electricity?  Maybe they could have and maybe they even knew about it.  But how would it help them in the long run?  Socrates was interested in ethics, logic, and pedagogy.  The Rashba was busy moving mountains in Shas.  Neither of them thought worthwhile to spend their life developing a car.  Who needed to go anywhere when you can explore Heaven and earth right where you are.

Nowadays, not only is spirituality passe, but so is the pursuit of intellect.  Our lone pursuit today is of pleasure, and instantly at that.  Society's lives are devoid of any deeper meaning.  Good food, good music, pretty sights and a few thrills are the epitome of what mankind seeks.  All the minds in the world are focused on creating the tools to bring these things immediately within our grasp.  In the Dor of prior to the coming of Moshiach, says the Braisa (Sotah 49b), Bais Vaad Yihiyeh L'Znus, the intellectuals will gather together to create means to satisfy our basest desires.

In an incident  that happened around ten years before the outbreak of World War II, which witnessed the death of 60 million people at the hands of mankind, the Chofetz Chaim's granddaughter came to visit him on a break from university.  Seeing the lights of academia and seeing her grandfather toling over Torah in modest surroundings, she asked him, "Zeidy, you are the wisest of all the Jews.  Why do you live in the dark?  Why do you not come to the university and use your mind to see the light?"  The Chofetz Chaim answered her, that in university all the brain power is used to create tools to destroy mankind.  In Yeshiva the mind is used to build each inidividual man.  Chochom Adif MiNavi!

Although we cannot relate to the days of old and we do not fathom the yearning for spirituality, as soon as Paroh, who was the most spiritual man alive, (in a bad sense), saw Yosef and heard what he had to say, he recognized his spiritual superior, regardless of his stature and his past.  He needed him as his number two man and he needed him to be subservient to him.  To this end he elevated him from the lowest of depths to highest peak.

Spirituality is deeply buried but it is not dead.  It can still be found in the eternal Torah that doesn't change with the times.  Its power does not erode even if the people learning it do.  On Chanuka we turn the clock back and we light the little flames from good old fashioned olive oil and wicks.  These lights represent the flame of Torah that has not changed.  It is as precious and spirtual as ever.  It is an oasis in a world of more convenience and less substance.  We kindle the flame of Torah and with it we chase away the darkeness cast upon the world that grows darker every day.  It is the festival of light and our job is to use these days to contemplate our lives, to take ourselves out of the darkness and bask in the true light.
RELATED ARTICLES:avoda zara  Chanuka  observation  Paroh  Paroh's dreams  Parshas Mikeitz  Rav Chatzkel Levenstein  Yosef

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