The Greek Worldview


Each year as Chanukah approaches, people frequently discuss the phenomenon of the “Mityavnim,” the Jews at the time of the Maccabees who sought to popularize Hellenism in Israel. It is a popular sport to speculate regarding which groups of Jews qualify in our own time as “Mityavnim.” However, I think that it is more productive to examine the mindsets and outlooks that represent “hityavnut” and which we must be wary of and fight against.

From the Greek perspective, we live in a materialistic world of competing forces. The Greeks were the first to theorize about atoms as the fundamental building blocks of our physical world. Theologically, they saw a world of multiple gods fighting with each other, each representing a different force in our world. In this materialistic worldview, the world is a zero-sum game of a competition for resources, and so there were constant battles between the Greeks and their neighbors. This worldview also led to the creation of the Olympics, something that institutionalized this competitive worldview and celebrated the physical prowess of the victor.

By contrast, the Jewish worldview perceives existence through spiritual, rather than material, lenses. Physical atoms are not the core of existence, but rather the world of the spirit and values. The world is fundamentally united, under one G-d, rather than a plethora of competing forces. Hence, each person has their own value, and that value is not determined by how they compare to anybody else. Each person has their own G-dly nature, their own identity, and the identity and achievements of others are irrelevant. While we live in a physical world and all receive different things, ultimately our goal is to be happy with what we have, knowing that it is what Hashem wants.

One would think that in the 21st century, most people would be happy. We live in a civilization of material abundance, with historically high quality of life, and yet so many people are upset and depressed. The reason for this is that we’ve adopted a “Greek mindset” of competition in which each of us is valued only in relation to others. When a child comes home from school and his parents ask “what grade did you get on the test?” and the next question is “what grade did your friends get?,” the child will internalize a competitive view of the world. 

In the Olympics, no one is rewarded for improving their own performance. The only thing that matters is whether an athlete can beat his competitors. But according to the Torah’s worldview, what really matters is achieving your own G-dly potential, irrespective of the people around you.

This applies to children and adults alike. Adults often feel that they have to constantly prove themselves through professional achievements. Young families go into debt buying things they don’t need, just to keep up appearances. As we light the menorah, let us remember the Jewish worldview that beat the Greek one. Ultimately, we believe our world and each person is fundamentally spiritual, and so each person is infinitely valuable, making it unnecessary to compare ourselves to others. May we celebrate the spiritual victory of Chanukah, and apply its lessons to our own lives.


Rabbi Chaggai Londin is the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Holon, and is a resident of Sderot.

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