Chanukah

It's the Real Thing

The Greek View of Reality - Coca Cola?
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

"It's the real thing - Coke!" A human tooth placed in a vessel containing Coca Cola for an extended period eventually disintegrates, utterly disappears! Place a lot of sugar in water, put in a special secret admixture of chemicals and, voila! - the "real thing!" But the world has bought this slogan, as well as cans and bottles by the billions. How did the Coca Cola company manage to convince the world that their product is the "real thing?" Perhaps we can blame the ancient Greeks. The Greeks? Please allow us to explain.

What remains from Ancient Greece? What are the legacies of the Greek Empire to the Modern World? One can't stroll far into a great art museum without bumping into a colossal marble or bronze statue (minus the nose perhaps) dating to the Greek Empire. Greek sculpture is today omnipresent in Athens and other cities of modern Greece, and ubiquitous in the great art museums worldwide: The British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris, and the Metropolitan in New York City to name a few.

The basis of this legacy is the ancient Greek reverence for the human form. The ancient Greeks idolized the human body; they saw it as perfect and beautiful. So enamored were they with the natural form that during their occupation of the land of Israel they prohibited bris mila, circumcision. How could one improve upon Divine Creation, they argued?

The Olympic Games certainly rank among the more popular legacies of the ancient Greeks, so popular worldwide that the Winter and Summer Games were recently split, enabling aficionados to enjoy this entertainment every two years instead of every four. The Olympic Games are the world's symbol of sports, the epitome of athletic competition. "Sound body, sound mind:" To be of sound mind one must develop a sound body.

However, sports today has become more than a means to a sound body, it has become one of the world's largest industries with top athletes earning millions annually. The Greek adoration of the human form has become a worship of the athlete, the individual of great physical prowess who has trained the body to attain its maximal physical capacities. Not only is the physical form to be admired through sculpture, but the master of the physical is to be idolized through sport!

The Greeks left us an intellectual legacy as well. They made contributions in mathematics, literature, and science. Perhaps their greatest intellectual legacy, however, was in the field of philosophy.

"Philosophy," said 20th century Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, "removes from religion all reason for existing...As the science of the spirit, it looks upon religion as a phenomenon, a transitory historical fact, a psychic condition that can be surpassed." (Esthetic Ch. 8) Here, Croce expresses the modern intellectual legacy of the Greeks. According to Croce "ideas do not represent but are reality. Art is the expression of a Creative Mind outside of which nothing exists; thus reality is history and all knowledge historical knowledge." (The University Encyclopedia).

If ideas are reality, then reality becomes history, and religion can be seen as "a transitory historical fact," a "psychic condition" to be surpassed and replaced by philosophy, "the science of the spirit."

The "sound mind" is one which believes only in the concrete, and experiences a "reality" of the five senses. Even the esoteric idea, even the lofty ideal, must be understood as concrete expressions of a concrete world. Thus, the "sound body" is celebrated only as a tool to experience the concrete, the "sound mind" to understand the concrete.

"It is also necessary to know that G-d must be absolutely one. It is impossible that there exist more than one being whose existence is intrinsically imperative. Only one Being can possibly exist with this necessarily perfect Essence, and therefore the only reason all other things have the possibility of existence is that G-d wills them to exist. All other things therefore depend on Him, and do not have intrinsic existence." (The Way of G-d, 1:1:6)

Hashem, the intangible, unknowable, and indescribable is the only "intrinsically imperative" existence; all else depends entirely on Hashem's will; as long as Hashem wills it, it exists. Art, philosophy, history, even the human body are not "real," as they are only temporal expressions of the Will of the True Existence, Hashem. The concrete world is ephemeral, transitory. The intangible world of the Creator is eternal, "real!"

So it's all the Greeks fault! They convinced the world that the human body should be worshiped for its own sake (sculpture), that one who maximizes the utilization of the human body becomes the idol of society (Olympics), and that the idea is reality (philosophy). They turned Coke into the "real thing."

One nation isn't "sold." The Jewish people. We say the "Real Thing" is Hashem! Hashem adds life! Therefore, we as a nation must "teach the world to sing in perfect harmony" the song of Hashem.

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