Rabbi's Message, Rabbi Alvin Kass, December 2014

Rabbi Alvin Kass
Chief Chaplain of the NYPD

The Power of Spirit

The essential message of Hanukkah is expressed in the stirring words of Zechariah: "Not by might, and not by strength, but by My spirit, sayeth the Lord of Hosts." In other words, God operates in the realm in history. Events happen not because of brute force, but as a result of the working out of God's will and plan for the world. To be sure, at any particular moment in time, you may note the triumph of injustice. But our sages maintain that this will not be the case forever. Eventually justice is vindicated. The Talmudic maxim, "The thief ends on the scaffold" articulates the confidence of our tradition that all the apparent improprieties of life get straightened out in the end.

Napoleon once said that "God is on the side of the heaviest battalions." But if that were the case, the Maccabees would never have defeated the Syrian Greeks. Likewise, if Napoleon were correct, Nazi Germany and its Fascists allies in Europe and Asia would have won World War II.

Most important of all, if the Spirit of the Lord of Hosts was not the most pivotal and decisive force of history, the modern State of Israel would never have come into being in our time. That Jewish nationalist aspirations should have achieved fruition at precisely the moment when the fortunes of our people were at their lowest ebb is absolutely mind-boggling. That the Jewish State should also have survived five wars against an Arab enemy who overwhelmingly outmanned and outgunned its adversaries is almost too wondrous to believe.

Many of us are old enough to have lived through the Cold War which dominated global politics for most of the last half of the twentieth century. It was a fearful time when the United States and its democratic allies faced a Communist superpower, armed to the teeth with nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, determined to force the atheistic and materialistic philosophy of Karl Marx on all the uncommitted and undeveloped countries of the world. Each week marked a new uprising somewhere on the map. Democracy as a species of government appeared totally discredited; and the number of functioning democracies in the universe declined precipitously. Who could have dreamed that this menace would vanish suddenly and without the firing of a shot!

There is still plenty of violence and barbarism in the world particularly in the Middle East by terrorists whose number one aspiration is to destroy our democratic society. Still the principles of freedom and democracy are once more gaining primacy as mankind's best option for getting along in an imperfect world.

To be sure, democracy is not a panacea for all the world's ills. There are plenty of defects in the democratic way of life even as it functions in America, including acrid partisanship, corruption, inefficiency, vulgarity and the tyranny of the masses. The priceless virtue of democracy, however, for which it deserves the Divine blessing, is that it provides a peaceful means for the achievement of progress in the dissemination of an ever greater measure of righteousness in the lives of the people. Democracy makes possible social and political change that will be the expression of the rational will and enlightened aspirations of an entire nation rather than the wishes and whims of a self-interested minority.

Democracy also permits the cultivation of many and varied viewpoints as fallible minds grope in their search for ultimate truth. That democracy as a form of government could survive and prosper when so much military might is concentrated in the hands of its enemies is but another example of the power of spirit in the affairs of the world.

Happy Hanukkah!

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