Features Archive

Of Leopards and Chanukah Lights

Mrs. Moskowitz2

The Ohr Gedalyahu on Nes Chanukah

Ask your average Joe (or Jew) to free associate the word “leopard”. Chances are you’ll come up with something along the lines of safari, zoo or African veldt. Less likely anyone would say Chanukah, but surprisingly they would not be wrong.

Leopards actually factor significantly at least twice in the Torah. The first is in Pirkei Avot (5:20): “Yehuda ben Teima omer...Hevei Az Kanamer...Laasot Retzon Avicha Shebashamayim”, “be brazen as a leopard to do the will of your Heavenly Father.” The second, perhaps more telling reference is in Sefer Daniel when he prophesizes the Greek exile in the form of a leopard. What aspect of Greece would warrant such a description? Did the Greeks employ leopards alongside their elephants in warfare? Clearly not, but perhaps Yehuda ben Teima’s directive “be brazen as a leopard” provides a clue.

In Sefer Ner Mitzva, the Maharal relates that “Azut”, brazenness, is a prerequisite to acquiring chochmah. Chazal’s statement “Ein habayshan lomed” confirms what we know intuitively to be true: Acquisition of chochmah largely depends on one’s ability to be bold and brazen in its pursuit. Reticence, whether from fear of failure and ridicule, or from an inability to question dogma, greatly inhibits intellectual growth. Greece’s extraordinary achievements in chochmah were a natural outgrowth of their extraordinary midat ha’azut, the exact trait Daniel divined when he prophesized the nation as a leopard.

But, there is another dimension to azut, one that is best understood when compared with its close cousin, gevurah. Gevurah is the ability to remain steadfast in the face of adversity and to overcome obstacles, secure in the knowledge that I have not overestimated myself, and to know that I truly do have the strength to persevere. This isn’t to diminish from raw acts of gevurah, for knowing I have ability is one thing, choosing to actualize it is another matter entirely. The difficulty in actualization however, is somewhat mitigated in recognizing that I do indeed have the tools to secure my success.

Contrast that with azut, a midah that compels me to assume a challenge I am is not necessarily equipped to undertake. But with the characteristic chutzpah, I can take on something bigger than myself, simply because I know it has to get done. With gevurah, I approach the battlefield confident in my superior strength (although not always confident in my ability to execute it). With azut I have the audacity to battle forces far greater than me. And what defines true victory? When I vanquish the distinguishing strengths of my enemy, and then use precisely those traits against him to achieve my goals in battle, then I have won.

The Maccabim were faced with a losing proposition. Here they were, a small group of malnourished Jews, kohanim who until recently had been hiding in caves to learn Torah, pitted against a world class, spectacularly trained army who used the most advanced artillery the ancient world had to offer. Could the Maccabim prevail by dint of their own gevurah? Only a delusional fool could imagine that their capabilities matched those of the mighty Greek warriors. Nevertheless, the Maccabim knew that for the sake of Hashem’s honor a war had to be fought and won.  So with brash azut, precisely the same azut used by Yavan in acquiring and disseminating chochmah, the Maccabim rose, bold and brazen as a leopard, against their oppressors.

And Hashem did not forsake them. For their readiness to take on demons far greater than themselves, to employ azut in their fight for Hashem’s glory, Hashem imbued them with the requisite gevurah to secure victory.

Against impossible odds Hashem guided us from bold and brazen azut to gevurah and glorious triumph, and this is reason enough to celebrate and sing. However, in our euphoric song of thankfulness and praise to Hashem we mustn’t disregard a key point: “Ba’yamim ha’hem, ba’zeman ha’zeh.” Facing insurmountable obstacles with azut was not just for the Maccabim of old. Their brazen fortitude serves as our model, if not an actual summons, to muster azut in the face of spiritual adversity. Whether I face external challenges to my belief or practice of Hashem’s will, or whether I encounter my own internal spiritual impediments, the lesson of the leopard endures. Furthermore, in brazenly facing a threat that may even be greater than me, I can be secure in the knowledge that Hashem will provide me with the gevurah to overcome it, as He did then, Bayamim Haheim Bazeman Hazeh!