The Jewish Eye
The Story Of Chanukah Part 1 - Greek Culture Seeps Into Eretz Yisroel
Sefer Ezra describes the dedication of the second Beis Hamikdash in the sixth year of the reign of King Daryavesh, the king of Paras. The small portion of Bnei Yisrael who had heeded Ezra’s call to return to Eretz Yisrael celebrated the dedication of the second Beis Hamikdash with great joy amidst tears. The tears were shed by those who had witnessed the first Beis Hamikdash in all its glory. The second Beis Hamikdash was not comparable, physically or spiritually, to the first Beis Hamikdash, which had been built through open miracles. The era of the second Bais Hamikdash was also not comparable to that of the first Beis Hamikdash. Nevuah was lost, and the position of Kohen Gadol became a political tool which was handed out to those with the most money and influence.
Shortly after the dedication of the second Beis Hamikdash, the era of Persian rule ended, as Alexander the Great, swiftly rises to great power, and sweeps in the era of Greek domination of the world. Alexander easily conquers Eretz Yisrael, which is comprised of a weak, newly-formed community. The era of the third galus of Bnei Yisrael, under the domination of the Yavanim, commences. Alexander is magnanimous to Eretz Yisrael and the Beis Hamikdash, thanks to a miraculous encounter with Shimon Hatzaddik.
Shimon Hatzaddik was the Kohen Gadol and the last member of the Anshei Knesses Gedolah. As Alexander and his army approached Yerushalayim on their way to its conquest, Shimon Hatzaddik and the other elders went out to greet him, fearing that Alexander will destroy the city and the Beis Hamikdash. When Alexander the Great, the conqueror of the entire civilized world, catches a glimpse of Shimon Hatzaddik, he immediately bows down before him. He explained to his men, who were amazed at his uncharacteristic behavior, that he had seen a vision of Shimon Hatzaddik before each of his victorious battles. Alexander was sure that his victories were in the merit of this esteemed leader of the Jews, and his subsequent behavior towards them and the Beis Hamikdash reflected his appreciation and awe.
Along with Greek military and political domination, came the domination of Greek culture, and Hellenism began infiltrating the world, and even Eretz Yisrael. Greek culture glorified the arts and beauty. The human body was considered the ultimate in physical beauty, and its perfection was rewarded in the Olympics, a Greek invention. The concept of modesty was not part of the Greek vocabulary, and in fact, the word gymnasium stems from the Greek words which means naked. The Greek religion, or Greek gods, was secondary to the power and idolizing of the human being. These ideals were foreign to the Jewish nation, but nevertheless began making insidious inroads into the previously pure Torah values of Bnei Yisrael. The spiritual decline begins after the death of Shimon Hatzaddik, who in his lifetime was a source of spiritual strength to Bnei Yisrael.
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