The story of Chanukah is an ongoing conflict between two approaches to human life.

One approach is that human life is valued because humans are capable of thought and reason. Therefore, the ultimate judge in all matters is human reason, the measure of all things. Everything must follow the dictates of knowledge, science, and human understanding—because there is nothing higher.

The other says human life is invaluable because the human being is essentially bound up with a divine, transcendent truth. “In the image of G‑d did He make the human being.”

Yes, reason too is precious. It is the highest quality of the human being. But it is not the ultimate adjudicator of life. For that, humankind has been endowed with divine truths that transcend reason and that are binding upon us even when we don’t understand. We are placed here in this world not as owners, but as stewards, with boundaries to our powers over it and responsibilities to one another and to the One who made all things.

Ever since Alexander entered Jerusalem, the civilized world has been the battleground of this conflict, with the Jews always at its vortex—from ancient Greece, Rome and Persia to the Arabic empires to 20th century Europe and the Americas, and even in today’s global civilization that encompasses East and West.

One nation in particular excelled beyond all others in the entire gamut of human intellect—in philosophy, in ethics, in music, in history, in mathematics, physics, psychology—to a pinnacle unchallenged in history. The German people took the genius endowed to them and twisted it into an ideology of genocide justified by the science of its day. The world’s most educated nation transformed itself into a brutally efficient death-machine that would have destroyed itself along with the entire world but for the grace of G‑d.

And yet, to this day, much of the world still questions the need for absolute values.

Judaism is tasked with transmitting a set of absolute values that was endowed to the world by its Creator at the very dawn of humankind; common values that enable the world to endure with respect and dignity for all living things. It is called the Noahide Code. (See for more on the Noahide Code.)

Because a world of reason, intellect, and knowledge alone is not a sustainable world. Within true wisdom flickers the light of a higher consciousness, an awareness that we are not the end-all of being, that within this reality and within this life breathes the One that created all things. Even reason itself.

Indeed, the battle of Chanukah continues, and its flame becomes yet more vital each day.