Archive for the '8.2 Hanukah' Category

Remembering the Holocaust: Revisiting Zechariah

The holidays are behind us, we just celebrated Thanksgiving and Rosh Hodesh Kislev on Thursday and we are in the clear until the 25th when we celebrate Chanukah. Yesterday was the 4th of Kislev and it passed without mention or fanfare. But It was an important day in the book of Zechariah.

Zechariah’s prophecies took place during the reign of Darius the Great and were contemporary with Haggai in a post-exilic world after the fall of Jerusalem in 587/586 BCE. Zechariah is specific about dating his writing (520–518 BC).There we read:

In the fourth year of King Darius, on the fourth day of the ninth month, Kislev, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah—when Bethel-sharezer and Regem-melech and his men sent-to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to address this inquiry to the priests of the House of the Lord and to the prophets: “Shall I weep and practice abstinence in the fifth month, as I have been doing all these years?” Thereupon the word of the Lord of Hosts came to me: Say to all the people of the land and to the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and seventh months all these seventy years, did you fast for my benefit? And when you eat and drink, who but you does the eating, and who but you does the drinking?

Zechariah 7:1- 6

After the destruction of the First Temple they commemorated that event with a yearly fast ( see 2 Kings 25:8). At the time in Zechariah they were almost done rebuilding the Second Temple after 70 years of exile and the people did not know what to do. They came to Zechariah because they wanted to know what to do with this commemoration.

Their question seems sincere. The response seems rather harsh. Instead of appreciating the earnest nature of this inquiry to stop the fast God tell Zechariah to criticize them for the lack of intention of this fast in the first place. It seems that God is doubting their motivation. They eat for their own interests and they fast for their own interests. Why should this involve God at all?

While we are not there yet, not so far in the future , we too will have a 4th of Kislev reckoning. In our era it is not the destruction of the Temple but rather the destruction of European Jewry that has occupied our collective consciousness. We will need to make sense of our commemoration of the Holocaust. We are getting close to 75 years of a State of Israel. There are preciously few survivors left. What will we do with our rituals and educational program for remembering the Holocaust in the future? What were our intentions for these behaviors? Can we stop what we started?

There is not simple answer to these questions, but I want to end where we began with Zechariah. Not much is known about Zechariah’s life other than what may be inferred from the book. It has been speculated that his grandfather Iddo was the head of a priestly family who returned with Zerubbabel and that Zechariah may have been a priest as well as a prophet. In this he bridged both realities. We also know that his name Zechariah means “God remembered.”

As we consider how we will preserve the memory of the Holocaust we might need a generation that bridges that divide like Zechariah himself. We also need to do some soul searching. Is the preservation of this memory for us and or for God. Like his prophecy maybe some clarity about the intention of the remembering will guide the way.

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Stuck in Traffic: Rethinking Chanukah

What are we celebrating on Chanukah? At the most basic level we commemorate the  Hashmonaim defeating the Greeks and reclaiming the Temple. According to the Rabbis after these Maccabees beat their enemy and rededicated the Temple they found one cruse of pure oil for the Menorah. This oil was enough to last for one day, but it lasted for eight days, which was enough time for them to produce more pure oil. To the Maccabees this miracle was proof that God approved and sanctioned their military efforts. It seems that at its core Chanukah is a victory of Particularism over Universalism. But was it really a fight between the Greeks and Jews or between the Hellenized Jews and religious zealots? Many believe that this was truly a civil war. How might the celebration of Chanukah help us rethink reconciliation after a civil war?

In order to answer this question we should explore the when and where of the commandment to light the Chanukah candles. But before we get to that we need to explore the phenomena of traffic. I happened to have just read a great book on the topic of Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt. It is well worth the read. Vanderbilt points out many things, but one is that we all hate traffic. That is interesting that traffic has such a negative connotation today while it originally was a good thing. The word traffic comes from the Italian traffico (14c.) which comes from from trafficare “carry on trade”. It was only much later (1825) that traffic came to mean “people and vehicles coming and going”. As Vanderbilt writes

It originally referred (and still does) to trade and the movement of goods. That meaning slowly expanded to include the people engaging in that trade and the dealings among people themselves–Shakespeare’s prologue to Romeo and Juliet describes the “traffic of our stage.” It then came to signify the movement itself, as in the “traffic on this road.” At some point, people and things became interchangeable. The movement of goods and people were intertwined in a single enterprise; after all, if one was going somewhere, it was most likely in pursuit of commerce. This is still true today, as most traffic problems occur during the times we are all going to work, but we seem less likely to think of traffic in terms of motion and mobility, as a great river of opportunity, than as something that makes our lives miserable.

Traffic

Traffic jam as a phrase is first recorded much later in 1908, ousting earlier traffic block (1895).

Vanderbilt goes on to define this traffic problem:

We say there is “too much traffic” without exactly knowing what we mean. Are we saying there are too many people? Or that there are not enough roads for the people who are there? Or that there is too much affluence, which has enabled too many people to own cars? One routinely hears of “traffic problems.” But what is a traffic problem? To a traffic engineer, a “traffic problem” might mean that a street is running below capacity. For a parent living on that street, the “traffic problem” could be too many cars, or cars going too fast. For the store owner on that same street, a “traffic problem” might mean there is not enough traffic.

Traffic

At its core the traffic problem is the tension between meeting all of our needs on the road while trying to meet each of our needs. How does the system work best at the same time of me getting mine? This is not easy. Vanderbilt points out that this is not a new issue. He writes:

Blaise Pascal, the renowned seventeenth-century French scientist and philosopher, had perhaps the only foolproof remedy for traffic: Stay home. “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact,” he wrote. “That they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.”

Traffic

As Vanderbilt shows, driving is a provocatively revealing prism for examining how our minds work and the ways in which we interact with one another. Ultimately, Traffic is about more than driving: it is about human nature.

With this in mind we turn our mind to Chanukah and more specifically when and where we light the candles. In terms of where? We put them in a way so they can be seen from our windows. In terms of when we learn in the Gemara:

Its observance is from sunset ad sh’tichle regel min a shukuntil there is no wayfarer in the marketplace. Does that not mean that if it goes out [within that period] it must be relit?-No: if one has not yet lit, he must light it; or, in respect of the statutory period.

Shabbat 21a

We take take this to mean that we are trying publicize the miracle of Chanukah. To this ends we put them in the public view at the time when people are passing by our homes.

With Vanderbilt’s insight on Traffic in mind we might come to a deeper understanding of this. We light the candles at the time and in the place where the candles will be seen by and you can see the traffic of people passing by our homes. The way we negotiate traffic is akin to how we might think about reconciliation of civil strife and disagreement. How does the system of roads work best for everyone at the same time of helping me get where I want to go? This is a profound tension in a society between the needs of individuals, small groups, and the majority. Coming to a solution to meet everyone’s needs and desires is never easy. Traffic and Chanukah are about more than driving or miracles: they both give us insight into human nature. We are not just our imaginations of our best selves at home with our families, we are also the same people who are going about along on the road of life. May the light of Chanukah light our path so we can all get along without getting stuck in traffic.

ReDedicated: Chanukah and Culture of Infinite Browsing

Most of us have had this experience: browsing through countless options online, unable to commit to making a choice—and losing so much time skimming reviews and considering trailers that it’s too late to watch anything at all. In his book Dedicated Pete Davis argues that this is the defining characteristic of the moment: keeping our options open. We are stuck in “Infinite Browsing Mode”—swiping through endless dating profiles without committing to a single partner, jumping from place to place searching for the next big thing, and refusing to make any decision that might close us off from an even better choice we imagine is just around the corner. This culture of restlessness and indecision, Davis argues, is causing tension in the lives of young people today: We want to keep our options open, and yet we yearn for the purpose, community, and depth that can only come from making deep commitments.

In Dedicated, Davis examines this quagmire, as well as the counterculture of committers who have made it to the other side. He shares what we can learn from the “long-haul heroes” who courageously commit themselves to particular places, professions, and causes—who relinquish the false freedom of an open future in exchange for the deep fulfillment of true dedication. Weaving together examples from history, personal stories, and applied psychology, Davis’s “insightful without being preachy…guide to commitment should be on everyone’s reading list”

While there are many elements of his book that are interesting to me personally and professionally, I am writing about it today in that this notion of being dedicated is central to the holiday of Chanukah. At the most basic level we commemorate the  Hashmonaim defeating the Greeks and reclaiming the Temple. According to the Rabbis after these Maccabees beat their enemy and rededicated the Temple they found one cruse of pure oil for the Menorah. This oil was enough to last for one day, but it lasted for eight days, which was enough time for them to produce more pure oil. To the Maccabees this miracle was proof that God approved and sanctioned their military efforts. It seems that at its core Chanukah is a victory of their and now our dedication to a common cause.

But if we explore it further would we say that Chanukah was between the Greeks and Jews or between the Hellenized Jews and religious zealots? Many believe that this was truly a civil war. How might the celebration of Chanukah help us rethink reconciliation post civil war?

In our own context we must all acknowledge that there are elements of our lives in which we are dedicated long-haul heroes like the Maccabees and others that we are infinite Brows like the Hellenized Jews. How do we make peace with ourselves, our communities, and our civilization?

I believe there is incredible depth to his observation about this generation as it pertains to one generations fear that the new generation is “anti-Zionist”. Or a younger generation’s anger that we have lost our moral compass. The two generations have pitted themselves against each other seeing themselves as the true Maccabees dedicated to the truth and the others generation missing the point. In Davis’s critique of the Infinite Browsing Mode he discussed three fears: 1) fear of regret 2) fear of association 3) fear of missing out. If we do not deals with these fears we will never get anywhere. This year for Chanukah I rededicate myself to understanding these fears.

Limits of Time: Kislev and Happiness

With advent of Kislev I am more aware that winter is coming. It is getting darker and darker earlier and earlier. This reminded me of an extraordinary Gemara. there we read:

When Adam the first man saw that the day was progressively diminishing, as the days become shorter from the autumnal equinox until the winter solstice, he did not yet know that this is a normal phenomenon, and therefore he said: Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will ultimately return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder. And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven, as it is written: “And to dust shall you return” (Genesis 3:19). He arose and spent eight days in fasting and in prayer. Once he saw that the season of Tevet, i.e., the winter solstice, had arrived, and saw that the day was progressively lengthening after the solstice, he said: Clearly, the days become shorter and then longer, and this is the order of the world. He went and observed a festival for eight days. Upon the next year, he observed both these eight days on which he had fasted on the previous year, and these eight days of his celebration, as days of festivities. He, Adam, established these festivals for the sake of Heaven, but they, the gentiles of later generations, established them for the sake of idol worship.

Avodah Zarah 8a
Nautical Dusk by Vitling on Amazon Music - Amazon.com

What would it mean to live a life in which you really believed that the entire world and the sun in sky revolved around your actions? While it seems to be the definition of being omphalocentric, it also makes you live with profound sense of purpose.

While none of us could think that the entire world was there to respond to our good deeds or our sins, many of us approach the world with a profound sense of entitlement. Why do we think that we deserve more sun light? To quote Oliver Twist, what do we deserve “MORE?”.

Ben Zoma taught:

Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot, as it is said: “You shall enjoy the fruit of your labors, you shall be happy and you shall prosper” (Psalms 128:2) “You shall be happy” in this world, “and you shall prosper” in the world to come.

Avot 4:1

If we always want more we will never be happy. In many ways we are all in the dark regarding what would actually bring us joy. Maybe we only enjoy what we have when we think we might not keep it for ever. The limits of time seems to be a punishment, but might actually be a blessing.

Defiling the Pure: 1/6/21 In Light of Chanukah

Like many others I am surprised by how not surprised I was by the abhorrent events that transpired at the Capitol on January 6th. We all knew that Trump was never going to abdicate his throne easily. He orchestrated a seditious mob to use their white privilege to stop electoral process. They were not successful in having a coup, but they got much further that most of us could ever imagine. While they were defiling the hallowed halls of democracy it seemed that the experiment of this republic had come to an end. The assault on our government was not just just due to these terrorist or a “wannabe tin-pot dictator scared of losing power” (Thank you Senator Tammy Duckworth), but also the inept or complicit law enforcement.

A Bucks County Trump supporter posted about a 1776-style revolution during  Capitol riot. Then, he

Amidst chaos we strive to make sense of our reality. Sadly we as Jews have a long history of dealing with hatred in its many forms. I found myself this mourning stirred by Rambam’s unique language describing the historical events that lead to the institution of the holiday of Chanukah. There we read:

…they entered the Temple and broke through it, defiling the things that were pure. The people of Israel were sorely distressed by their enemies, who oppressed them ruthlessly until the God of our ancestors took pity, saved and rescued them from the hands of the tyrants. The Hasmonean great priests won victories, defeating the Syrian Greeks and saving Israel from their power. They set up a king from among the priests and Israel’s kingdom was restored for a period of more than two centuries, until the destruction of the second Temple. (Laws of Chanukah 3:1)

While I have to dilution that the Capitol is pure, the images still ring true. What is most telling is the in response to throwing off tyranny, they victorious priest run to have a king.

In a 2012 appearance in New Hampshire  former Supreme Court Justice David Souter made some striking and prescient remarks about the dangers of “civic ignorance”. This video has been circulating and worth seeing:

I was most struck when he said:

I don’t worry about our losing republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don’t worry about it because I think there is going to be a coup by the military as has happened in some of other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible. And when the problems get bad enough, as they might do, for example, with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown, some one person will come forward and say, ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’… That is how the Roman republic fell. Augustus became emperor, not because he arrested the Roman Senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.

We still do not know who was responsible for what transpired on January 6th. It was a total break down. In cleaning up, people need to held accountable. It is clear that our media is part of the reason that there are so many people who are ignorant of civics and distrustful of facts. Democracy is fragile and we are in peril. This is not a risk from the outside, but the inside. Like Augustus, with little regard for democratic norms and political institutions, others will come like Donald Trump seeking power, assuring the public that they will solve our problems. Exploiting the distrust of the media, fears and civic ignorance we have paved the way for another despot to come.

As the Hasmoneans had to do after the Greeks, we have a lot of work to do to clean up what has been defiled. But if there is anything else that can be learned for Democracy from Chanukah, it is the Rabbinic movement of the the Menorah in the Temple to the Chanukiah in the home. While the Capitol represents our democracy, it is not the limit of that ideal. As Churchill wisely said:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.… (House of Commons, 11 November 1947)

For our democracy to survive civics and decency needs to thrive in our homes. The power of democracy cannot come from without, but it needs to come from within. It comes from every citizen taking responsibility for themselves, their families, their communities, and the collective. The light from our homes keeps tyranny at bay.

Infinite Within the Finite: On Chanukah

I love this mobius shaped infinite donut for Chanukah:

Ein-Sofganiah

Seeing this wonderful image reminded me of this Möbius Torah I wrote with Shalom Orzach. Check out Limitless: Möbius Torah 2.0. There we wrote:

The Ari z”l understood that God’s being was Ein Sof without end or limit. God filled everything, hence for creation to happen there needed to be Zimzum- an act of God contracting, diminishing as it were God’s
presence, to make room for the world to come into existence. In order to “create” God had to limit God’s presence.

On Chanukah we celebrate what seems to be God making room by contracting God’s self. There we learn:

The Gemara asks: What is Chanukah, and why are lights kindled on Hanukkah? The Gemara answers: The Sages taught in Megillat Taanit: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the days of Chanukah are eight. One may not eulogize on them and one may not fast on them. What is the reason? When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary by touching them. And when the Hasmonean monarchy overcame them and emerged victorious over them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil that was placed with the seal of the High Priest, undisturbed by the Greeks. And there was sufficient oil there to light the candelabrum for only one day. A miracle occurred and they lit the candelabrum from it eight days. The next year the Sages instituted those days and made them holidays with recitation of hallel and special thanksgiving in prayer and blessings. ( Shabbat 21b) 

What started as a civil war was transformed by the Rabbis into a holiday of miracles. Chanukah celebrates the infinite light of the finite oil. The Rabbinic holiday is a celebration of the miracle of the cruse of oil as proof of God’s presence.

Another Woman’s March: Between Purim and Chanukah

A few months ago there was a big tumult regarding the Women’s March of Washington. Three of the four lead organizers had attended events hosted by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has made a living off of making antisemitic remarks.  Perceptions that the leaders of the Women’s March had failed to condemn the rhetoric and subsequent accusations of antisemitism within the organization itself led to former co-founder Teresa Shook to call for their resignations and were followed by the disassociation of numerous state chapters. By December 2018, The New York Times reported that “charges of antisemitism are now roiling the movement and overshadowing plans for more marches.”

Questions about alleged antisemitism connected to the Women’s March organizers have swirled for months in response to an article in online Jewish magazine Tablet. While the organizers had repeatedly denied all accusations of misconduct or using inappropriate speech, the issue resurfaced when two of the March’s organizers appeared on “The View”. During the show, March co-president Tamika Mallory was asked why she posted a photo of herself and Louis Farrakhan on Instagram with a caption indicating her adulation of this hatemonger. “I didn’t call him the greatest of all time because of his rhetoric,” Mallory responded. “I called him the greatest of all time because of what he’s done in black communities.” Pressed on the issue, Mallory said, “I don’t agree with many of Minister Farrakhan’s statements,” but when asked directly if she condemned them, she demurred. “I don’t agree with these statements,” Mallory responded. “It’s not my language, it’s not the way that I speak, it’s not how I organize … I should never be judged through the lens of a man.”

Image result for tamika on the view

What are the implications of judging a woman through the lens of a man? What is the right lens to judge a person who brings on a foe as an ally? What are the implications of a cause that I find to be just even if the allies brought together to support this cause are deplorable?

There were many voices in the Jewish community who were so triggered by the larger context of rising antisemitism that they could not see through that to the importance of the cause of the March. While I deeply appreciate the sensitivity to an association with Farrakhan being too much, I am curious about those who were against the March on the merits of it not reaching their standards of a purity of allyship. It has been noted by others that it’s a pernicious privilege to demand that a group of revolutionaries trying to make change a system maintain a purity of who they ally with for their cause.

This privilege makes sense from the perspective of Chanukah. That is to say that the Hashmonaim were revolutionaries who were fighting for their lives.  After the Maccabees beat their enemy and rededicated the Temple they found one cruse of pure oil for the Menorah. This oil was enough to last for one day, but it lasted for eight days, which was enough time for them to produce more pure oil. To the Maccabees this miracle was proof that God approved and sanctioned their military efforts. This notion of purity got expanded by the Rabbis future celebration of Chanukah. We learn:

Our Rabbis taught: The precept of Chanukah [demands] one light for a man and his household;  and the mehadrin- more beautiful [kindle] a light for each member [of the household]; and the mehadrin of the mehadrin – Bet Shammai maintain: On the first day eight lights are lit and thereafter they are gradually reduced;  but Bet Hillel say: On the first day one is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased. (Shabbat 21b)

The most beautiful expression of this ritual is when everyone shows off the purity of God’s sanctioning the Maccabees fight against the Greeks.

This paradigm of Chanukah stands juxtaposed Purim. Similar to the Maccabees with the Greeks, Esther and Mordechai were fighting the existential threat of Haman. Both holidays tell the stories of a small group of people uniting to defeat the bloodthirsty forces of a much larger and more powerful oppressor. But where Chanukah represents an aesthetic of Jewish purity over Hellenistic physical beauty, Esther represents the opposite. She only became the queen by winning a beauty pageant. Esther uses her beauty to save her people, and most importantly to our discussion here, to do this holy work she made some interesting allies. Throughout her efforts he relies on the eunuchs. For a community that has not historically looked on intermarriage so positively we are all too happy to overlook her relationship with Ahashverosh. The strangeness of who she portrays as her ally comes to head in her second banquet with Haman and Ahashverosh. There we read:

Queen Esther replied: “If Your Majesty will do me the favor, and if it pleases Your Majesty, let my life be granted me as my wish, and my people as my request. For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, massacred, and exterminated. Had we only been sold as bondmen and bondwomen, I would have kept silent; for the adversary is not worthy of the king’s trouble.” Thereupon King Ahashverosh demanded of Queen Esther, “Who is he and where is he who dared to do this?”“The adversary and enemy,” replied Esther, “is this evil Haman!” And Haman cringed in terror before the king and the queen. The king, in his fury, left the wine feast for the palace garden, while Haman remained to plead with Queen Esther for his life; for he saw that the king had resolved to destroy him. When the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet room, Haman was lying prostrate on the couch on which Esther reclined. “Does he mean,” cried the king, “to ravish the queen in my own palace?” No sooner did these words leave the king’s lips than Haman’s face was covered. (Esther 7:3-8)

Esther only request is the she and her people not be killed. She would not have bothered him if they were “just” enslaved. The King only acts when he perceives that Haman, who has been courted by Esther to these exclusive banquets, is trying to have sex with his wife in his palace. This seems incredibly strange that this is what provokes action and not his trusted adviser wanting to kill his queen or commit genocide. Ahashverosh is only moved to action when he sees his wife taking a strange bed-fellow.

Both Chanukah and Purim are stories of revolution and salvation. But while Chanukah is a story of purity, Esther is a story of persistence. Esther does whatever it takes to be successful, including using her beauty and not her purity to make strange bed-fellows. While people can still chose a Chanukah lens over a Purim lens to critique revolutionary activity, it should be mentioned that the Hashmonaim were roundly criticized by the Rabbis and were similar to today’s Taliban killing many brothers in name of ritual purity.  It was only after the privilege of winning that the Maccabees would claim that their fratricide was pure.

Coming back to our times we need to say clearly that women’s rights are truly in danger and we need to come together to fight this good fight. While Farrakhan and the larger rise of antisemitism is horrifying and needs to be blotted out, I think we need to be more understanding that revolutions by design get messy. Before we judge the leaders of the Women’s March too harshly in light of the Chanukah story, we need to see that their “misconduct or using inappropriate speech” might just be these women taking a chapter from Esther’s original Women’s March.

Purim Sameakh- Have a revolutionary holiday.

Higher Level: Chanuka, Light, Reconciliation, and Unity

The other night Yishama and I were driving back from his basketball game at night. We were on our way home to light candles for Chanuka. I asked him what he was learning in school. He shared with me that he was learning the machloket in Shabbat between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel as for how we should light the Chanuka candles. There we read:

Our Rabbis taught: The precept of Hanukkah [demands] one light for a man and his household; and those who will beautify the mitzvah [kindle] a light for each member [of the household]; and those who really will go all out and beautify the mitzvah,-Beit Shammai maintain: On the first day eight lights are lit and thereafter they are gradually reduced; but Bet Hillel say: On the first day one is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased. (Shabbat 21b)

Yishama recalled the principle that we follow Hillel to increase candles because we should elevate to a higher level in matters of sanctity and not decreased.  Amidst this dark time it is hard to understand the rationale for Beit Shammai?

Image result for menorah first night

Beit Shammai’s opinion is that the number of lights corresponds to the bulls of the festival of Sukkot: Thirteen were sacrificed on the first day and each succeeding day one fewer was sacrificed (Numbers 29:12–31). On simple level the Maccabees missed Sukkot during their war and rebooted the holiday when they could. This left us with a holiday with Sukkot‘s footprint in the middle of winter. But I think that there is a deeper level still to this.

Too often we choose to remember Chanuka as a story of the small Jewish soldiers defeating the much larger Greek army. It seems closer to the facts that the unrest was actually a civil war between Jews who were aligned to the Temple tradition and Jews who had aligned to the Greeks. The miracle of the Chanuka lights is not just that the small army beat the larger one, or that a small amount of oil lasted for 8 days, but that we could reconcile a civil war. In light of this reading of history I think that Beit Shammai’s tradition makes a whole lot of sense. Yes, Beit Hillel is right that it is dark out, but as the holiday moves on we move from 8 groups or factions to one group. By the end of Beit Shammai’s Chanuka we are left with a real vision of unity.

I think about the significance of Beit Shammai’s message at this moment in history while we find ourselves embroiled in fierce political discord and irreconcilable cultural difference in our Jewish and American communities. If by the end of Beit Shammai’s celebration we reunified our community, surely even Beit Hillel would agree that we would have elevated to a higher level in matters of sanctity and not decreased.

A Light in the Dark: Thoughts on Hanukkah and Christmas

As I write this, there is a lot of negative energy in the world. There seems a force asking people to draw lines, point out differences, and make more divisions in the world. In this Holiday season I prefer to see through it all and look for the things that connect us.  To this end I find myself looking for what the story of Hanukkah and the story of Christmas have in common.

In the book of Matthew they read:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. (Matthew 2:1-2)

Having seem the sign of the star the Magi came from the east looking for baby Jesus. They came because this gave them hope for the future. It is interesting to compare this discovery to the Rabbinic story of Hanukkah. There we read:

What is Chanukah? As the Rabbis taught: The twenty-fifth of Kislev begins the eight days of Chanukah. When the Greeks entered the Holy Temple they defiled all the oil that was in the Temple. And when the rulers of the House of Hashmonean succeeded in gaining the upper hand and vanquished them, the Holy Temple was searched and but one flask of oil was found with the seal of the high priest still intact. There was only enough oil to last but one day. A miracle occurred and it lasted for eight days. The following year these days were established and made into festive days of Hallel and thanksgiving. (Shabbat 21b)

Looking for holiness in the rubble of the reclaimed Temple, the rebels found one small jar of oil with the seal intact. They took the fact that this oil lasted for eight days as a sign of the holiness of their reclamation of Temple. Like the Magi they saw in this oil hope for the future.

I think about this in the still of the night in the darkest time of the year. It might be hard to relate to this in our modern lives which are filled with light, but can you imagine trying to find something in the dark in a time before electric lights or even before gas lights? It must have really been a needle in a hay stack.

The adage goes, “If you do not know where you going you will never be lost”. It follows from this idea that if you do not know what you are looking for you will never find it. It is tempting in the dark times to grow complacent, but now more than ever we need to do the hard work of discovering and rediscovering hope. In the case of the Magi as in the case of Hashmoneans they both knew what they were looking for even if it was needle in a hay stack. We should all be blessed to know for what we are looking. In these dark times we need to be looking for a sign and we need to be looking out for each other. We all just need to find a light in the dark.

-Reposted from the Canteen

 

Letter to the President from My 10 Year-Old Son

Getting invited to the White House for a Hanukkah party tonight prompted a great conversation over the weekend with Yadid. I am proud that he had the idea of writing the President a letter. I am honored to serve as his shaliach, emissary. I am curious what kind of response he will get. No matter what it is a great lesson in civics. Happy Hanukkah to everyone and here is the letter from Yadid to President Obama.

Dear President Obama,

Thank you for inviting my parents to your Hanukkah Reception. You are a amazing person and great president, so I will say it again Thank you. Here are a few questions I would like to ask you.

1. I’m honored that you hosted this reception, But why do it when we are only 2.11% of the american population?

2. What can I do to help this racial divide in our country?

3. What are your hopes and fears for the next administration?

Sincerely,

Yadid Frydman

Orlow P.S I’m 10 years

old.


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