In the ancient world, Greece was not a country as we think of one today, but rather a collection of loosely knit and often-warring city-states. The two most dominant and best remembered of these city-states were Sparta and Athens. These two regional powers waged an ongoing struggle for control of the Greek peninsula. In the end, Athens was the great victor – not only because of the sword and the phalanx, but because its Hellenistic culture eventually overwhelmed much of the world.
It is hard for us to imagine a world populated by the great gods Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo and Aphrodite (not to mention hundreds of others). But make no mistake, the Greeks took their gods as seriously as we take the stock market, presidential elections, and the internet. The gods had their fingers in every aspect of Greek life, literally. From atop Mount Olympus, they’d descend upon earth to sleep with mortal women, drink with mortal men and murder anyone who offended them.
The Next Step
As Greek society progressed, it began to subtly question the position of reverence accorded to the gods. Eventually the Greeks concluded that people were capable of being the equal to the gods.
Though the gods and their festivals remained central to daily Greek life, it became apparent that the true masters of the world were humans, not gods. It was human creativity that developed philosophy and the arts. It was the human mind that explored the world of natural science and built beautiful buildings.
This was the beginning of the end of Greek society.
The Jew, however, stands in for the supremacy of God. Man's greatness is in participating in the Creation as a partner with God. His greatness is in viewing himself in terms of a higher moral authority, something greater than the dictates of his own moral conscience.
For the Jew, man is created in the image of God. For the Greek, god is created in the likeness of man. They are supermen who can eat, drink and indulge in every physical excess.
It was the “enlightened” culture of Athens that would eventually conquer the world, and it was this same culture that would ultimately clash with Judaism at the time of Chanukah.
Adapted from "Chanukah - Eight Nights of Light, Eight Gifts for the Soul," by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf