The headline of the International Herald Tribune screamed: DEVIL IN THE DETAILS: A FIBER BETRAYS SADDAM. The article went on to report how the most wanted man of the year had been found when an American soldier, combing the area for a second time, noticed a tiny tuft of fiber protruding from the dirt. "Only a sliver of a mat was evident under the dirt where he was standing. But the soldier thought it was strange." When he yanked at the mat, he uncovered the hole in the ground where Saddam Hussein was hiding.

Reading the account, I was intrigued. Had the soldier not paid attention to that tiny detail, the dramatic capture would never have happened. Yet details generally get bad press in our modern culture. Focusing on picayune details, nit-picking, fastidiousness are all considered symptomatic of small minds. Big minds, according to our culture, see the big picture.

In fact, one of the most oft-repeated charges against Torah observance is that it is too concerned with the details. Why not observe Shabbat, goes the argument, by simply resting? Don't go to work and don't clean the garage, have dinner with the family and relax on the deck. Why have so many detailed points in Jewish law -- no writing, no cooking, no completing an electrical circuit, no washing out a stain in your best white blouse, etc.? Isn't Judaism missing the forest for the trees?

Perhaps this scorn for detail-consciousness is reserved only for religion. No one ever blames a nuclear physicist for focusing on itsy-bitsy particles. No one ever tells a painter of the school of Super Realism to discard his tiny brush and just paint wide swatches of color. No one ever castigates the builders of jet planes for paying too much attention to details. Where religion is concerned, however, only grand, sweeping ideas are appreciated.

Chanukah is an appropriate time to appreciate that there's more to reality than what we can observe with our eyes.

The truth is that everyone living in the age of microbes and sub-atomic particles knows that something invisible to the naked eye can make the difference between life and death. The issue is not size, but whether the object in question can be observed at all. The ancient Greek method of discovering truth, which all of us were raised on, is: observation, understanding, conclusions. Therefore, as long as something can be observed, even if only by a high-power electron microscope or by inference from the movement of other observable bodies, it is real.

Spiritual entities such as God and the soul, on the other hand, are not observable by any physical means. From the Greek point of view, therefore, they are illusory. The war between the Greeks and the Jews which forms the backdrop of Chanukah was really a Kulturkampf which only towards the end turned into a military battle. The Greeks believed that reality is primarily physical. The Jews believed that reality is essentially spiritual, with a veneer of physicality.

These competing concepts of reality determine which details are worthy of concern. The Greek worldview recognizes that a microscopic virus is a real danger to the body; the Jewish worldview recognizes that a violation of a fine point of Torah law is a real danger to the soul. Chanukah is an appropriate time to appreciate that there's more to reality than what we can observe with our eyes -- or our high-powered instruments. In fact, the latest scientific discoveries, the culmination of the Greek method, seem to bear this out.

A recent Newsweek science article deals with "mysterious, theoretical stuff called dark matter." Dark matter has never been observed, and cannot be observed, because it doesn't reflect light and barely interacts with anything else. Why then are many physicists convinced that it exists? Because in 1998, astrophysicists discovered that the universe's expansion, which should be gradually slowing down since the Big Bang, instead is accelerating. This phenomenon can be explained only by positing that a "mystery force, called dark energy, may work against gravity, driving the galaxies faster and faster apart."

The truly startling discovery, which deals a knockout blow to the observation-based Greek worldview, is: "Recent data from WMAP [the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotrophy Probe] suggests that dark matter in fact accounts for 90 percent of creation."

What? Ninety percent of the universe is made up of something that cannot be observed by physical means? I checked to make sure I was reading Newsweek, and not the Torah.


The second lesson I learned from the capture of Saddam Hussein is also a Chanukah allegory. Saddam thought of himself -- and built monuments to himself -- as the reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar, the ancient Babylonian emperor who destroyed the First Holy Temple in Jerusalem and drove the Jews into exile. Certainly Saddam's compulsion to again destroy the Jewish state made him a worthy successor to the malevolent Nebuchadnezzar.

Evil has the power to destroy but it does not have the power to endure.

The image of Saddam, disheveled, dusty, and disguised, climbing out of his hole and obsequiously surrendering to American forces rather than heroically fighting to the death, provides a stark metaphor for the true nature of evil. The Talmud describes evil as a giant standing at the crossroads, fiercely swinging his machete, filling all onlookers with fear. A closer look, however, reveals that the giant has no feet.

Evil has the power to destroy but it does not have the power to endure. For all its bluster, it always eventually meets an inglorious end. Nothing has proved this as graphically as the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

When people rise up to fight evil, rather than cowering before it, they must somehow believe in the possibility of victory. They must intuit that, despite all appearances, evil ultimately has no substance.

When the old priest Mattisyahu, with the help of his sons and his friends, launched his rebellion against the mighty Greek empire, no objective observer would have credited him with any chance of success. Who could have imagined that one day this meager Jewish fighting force would drive the invincible Greek army out of Jerusalem and out of the Holy Temple?

The Chanukah liturgy extols God: "You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few…" Chanukah is the triumph of the small over the great, of the unperceivable over the apparent.

Which brings us back to details. The miracle of the oil, which we commemorate by lighting the Chanukah candles, is a celebration of focusing on the details. In the vast recesses of the Temple storerooms, amidst the chaos following the battle, amidst countless cruses of profaned olive oil, one person -- perhaps one soldier -- noticed a single cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest still intact. The sages assert that finding that one unsullied cruse was in itself a miracle.

The Herald Tribune got it wrong. It's not the devil, but rather God, who's in the details.