Archive for the '2 Hanukah' Category

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.

Being Present for a Difficult Topic

Two week’s ago in the Torah portion we saw Yaakov give Yosef a coat of many colors. While this special gift was supposed to be an expression of love between a father and a son, for his brothers it was a sign of Yaakov’s unfairly favoring Yosef. This led them to sell Yosef into slavery. In our Torah portion this week Yosef is finally reunited with Yaakov. It is interesting to note that he is not interested in any more presents, only his father’s presence. Last week we celebrated Chanukah and we very deliberate to get each of our children presents that they would enjoy that spoke of our love for them. Kindles so they could read and play. After this senseless shooting, the gift was out of my mind and all I could think about was wanting to be present for my children.

Like many other parents, Adina and I spent the weekend deliberating what we should tell our children about the horrific shootings this past Friday. The school in Sandy Hook Elementary is about an hour away from our children’s school in Connecticut. We both knew that there was nothing really to talk about with Emunah (3) and Yishama (6), but what could be hope to say to Yadid (8) about the death of so many precious innocents? This past Monday night when  I got home I pulled Yadid into the kitchen to talk with him in private. I asked him what they talked about at school that day. He reported to me what the school had communicated to us the were going to messaged to him verbatim. I was happy. I asked him what he was thinking about, what he was feeling, and if he had any questions. Yadid said that was sad for what happened, but he wanted to talk “when the kids were not around.”While we did get to talk about it later, I am still moved at his sensitivity. Evidently Adina and I are not the only ones who was thinking about what the right way is to talk about such a difficult topic.

There were many ways of communicating our love to our children and many ways of helping  them deal with a crisis. In the end no presents will replace a long hug and being completely present in the moment.

A Better Yehudah

What is the story of Hanukah? Simply put by the Gemara,  the Greeks oppressed the Jews who revolted. The Hasmoneans were successful and reclaimed their Temple. When cleaning the defiled Temple they discovered one cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest. This was sufficient for one day’s light. A miracle occurred and it lasted for 8 days.

It is interesting to reflect on the simple plot of Miketz, this week’s Torah portion. As the second in command to Pharaoh during the drought, Yosef is living out his dream ( see Vayeshev)of having his brothers bow down to him seeking food. Yosef has Benyamin framed for stealing Yosef’s cup. Benyamin is the only full brother of Yosef, sharing both mother and father. Yosef wants to see if his brothers ever learned a lesson from almost killing him and selling him into slavery. When the hidden cup is revealed Yehudah steps forward to take responsibility for his brother. In the case of Yosef, Yehudah missed the chance to lead his brothers and almost lost his identity during the story of Tamar (with his staff and ring). But, here with Benyamin the “pure” brother, Yehudah overcomes his deep sense of guilt and steps forward, returns to his position of leadership, and unifies his family.

In this light, we see an interesting critique of the simple story of the  Hasmoneans. Seeing Hanukah as simply a story of Greeks versus the Jews and the discovery of a pure vessel of oil overlooks the civil war. Hanukah was also the story of the Jews versus the Hellenized Jews. The Hashmoaneans led by another Yehudah tried to unify the Jewish people, but that came with making Jews conform to their standards of Jewish life.The Hasmoneans  unlike Yosef’s brothers were actually guilty of fratricide. How might finding a cruse of oil clean their brother’s blood off of their hands?

As we stand there with our families lighting our Hanukah candles take a moment and realize that all families have their issues and their challenges. I can only hope that in the light of Hanukah and Miketz, we do not miss the simple message that we need to emulate the first Yehudah and not the second. Our immediate  and larger families need us to be selfless in the name of unity and not conformity. We need to look deep within ourselves and challenge the bad feelings we have for people who live different lives then our own. Simple acts of compassion these “estranged family members” can ignite the flame of redemption and reveal a better world.

 

 

An Educational Chanukah

In Hebrew we translate the word education as chinuch, but the reverse is not true. Chinuch cannot be translated simply into English as education. Proverbs instructs us Chanuch [same root as Chinuch]LaNaar al Pi Darko – to “Initiate a child in his way so when the child is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).  Alternatively, when you move into a new house, you would invite people over to join you in celebrating a Chanukat[same root as Chinuch]HaBayit,a dedication of your new house. I am thinking about this  today in that it is the 1st day of Chanukah[same root as Chinuch] -itself the holiday when we celebrate the rededication of Temple by the Hasmoneans. As we learn from Rashi – the premier Medieval Rabbinic Commentator – “the root ChaNaCh [same root as Chinuch] means the beginning  of the entry of a person or an implement into the craft in which he/it is destined to stay” (Rashi on Genesis 14:14). It follows that Chinuch– Jewish education – is truly about dedication and initiation.

Any of you who know me know that I  believe in camp. It is not just that I think camp is a lot of fun, camp has the potential to a place of serious Jewish education. Camp is a special learning environment with a very tight “learning loop”, holistic cycle where the camper pays attention to the counselor because the camper wants to follow the counselor’s example and join the camp’s staff in the near future. In this sense the chanichim [same root as Chinuch]– campers- are truly initiates to the larger learning project of camp. But ultimately the goal of camp is not just to train the next generation of madrichim– counselors, it is about preparing the next generation.  Ideally every camper is a future staff member who in turn will be an active member of the Jewish community and productive member of society.

The true nature of fire is that it can spread without diminishing itself. In so many ways Chanukah is not about the rededication of the temple, rather it is about the rededication of our selves. It is the mission of the Foundation for Jewish Camp to bring more chanichim to camp so they can spread that light to the world. Who knew no much education could happen around a camp fire?

– This is the product of a conversation I had this week with Jeremy Fingerman, the CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, in preparation for the FJC Board Meeting this coming week.

The Subtle Message of Hanukah

This past Thursday night Adina and I were sitting around enjoying the Hanukah candles. Yishama, our middle child, is transitioning out of his day time nap. That is to say that he probably does not need a nap any more, but seeing that he is getting one at day care it did not seem so strange that he came out to sit with us. So there we were, all three of us enjoying the last moments of the candles. Yishama pointed at the candles saying, ” That one is big, that one is small, and that one is subtle.” What? How in the world might a 3 year-old know the word subtle? He repeated, ” That one is subtle”. I asked him what subtle meant? Yishama looked at me and gesticulated as he said, “Super-medium”.

I am not 100% sure what he meant, but given the fact that he is 3 years-old I will let it slide. But with further consideration, the meaning of Hanukah itself is rather subtle. Hanukah is not the story 0f David beating Goliath, us versus them, or the story of religious fanatics crushing the power play of the reformers.  How can we create a new national myth that makes it possible to  reconcile post civil war? For this we truly need a subtle message.

Today with all of our internecine fighting we need a more subtle meaning of the word subtle. ” Super- Medium” will just not do.  To heal the wounds of all of our infighting we need to find a way to communicate ideas that are fine, delicate, requiring mental acuteness, skillful, and clever.

Nine years ago this past Shabbat an Orthodox Rabbinical student met a Reform Cantorial Student. Like a scene out of Westside Story, they were not supposed to meet, their relationship was not supposed to work out, and for sure they were not supposed to live happily ever after with three children. But, we did. And I for one assume our ability to get past the stuff that was supposed to divide us had to do with the unique nature of my wife Adina. The highest compliment is that she truly lives up to the meaning of her name, subtle. Adina is not “Super- medium”, she is just super.


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