I often hear people talk about Chanukah, and how the Jews beat the Greek mentality. But when they speak of the “Greek mentality”, often it becomes quite clear that they know nothing about Greek philosophy! People say the Greek philosophers didn’t believe in anything beyond the physical world – not true. People say the Greeks didn’t believe in a soul – not true. People say the Greeks didn’t believe that the soul can live on past the body – not true. Even the need to live a just, ethical life is explained thoroughly in Plato’s Republic (and, in Book X, ideas about the soul being eternal, reincarnation, and reward and punishment for our actions)

. So, if Chanukah is a battle between Greek and Jewish thought, just what, exactly, did we conquer? I think the answer to this question can be found when examining how the answers in Plato’s Republic come to be revealed. The basic question in Book I that ignites the entire dialogue and leaves us with ideas that may seem very Jewish in nature is, “Is it beneficial for a person to live a just life?” Let me refine the question:

Is it beneficial for a person to live justly? The emphasis of the question is for the benefit accrued to the individual. Socrates is simply able to show how living a just life is the most beneficial for an individual. If stealing would be more beneficial, then stealing would have been chosen as the best way to live. In Judaism, however, the emphasis is not on the individual. The halachic mind does not approach the world by asking, “What’s in it for me? How can I derive the most pleasure from my life?” but rather, “What are my obligations to my Creator? How can I best serve others?”

As Plato was wise enough to discern, in living a just life there are many rewards – in fact, it is the best life to live for a person’s own benefit. But in Jewish thought, the benefit accrued is an afterthought, a pleasurable consequence.

The real idea is knowing that “it’s not really about me”.

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