Posts Tagged 'Chanukah'

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.

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Psychoanalysis And Hanukah for Everyone

How do we light candles on Hanukah? On this there is a famous dispute between Hillel and Shammai. There we read:

Our Rabbis taught: The mitzva of Hanukah is one light for a man and his household. The zealous kindle a light for each person [in the household]. And for the extremely zealous, Shammai says: On the first day, light eight and thereafter, gradually reduce; but Hillel says: On the first day, light one and thereafter progressively increase … two sages differ [about the reasons]. One maintains that Shammai’s reason is that lights should correspond to the days still to come, and that of Beth Hillel is that lights should correspond to the days that are past. The other maintains that Shammai’s reason is that the lights should correspond to the bull sacrifices of Sukkot; while Hillel’s reason is that we increase in matters of sanctity, not reduce. (Shabbat 21b)

It is clear that we follow Hillel’s view regarding how the extremely zealous ought to light. There is much that has been and could be said to defend the view of Shammai, but what about the view the ordinary zealous person ? Why does the Gemara entertain the opinion to kindle a light for each person in the household? What is the significance of this stance?

An answer might come from Proverbs where we learn, “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inward parts.”(Mishlei 20:27) Here we depict that every person uniquely holds a divine flame. Some how this lamp is used to search all around the person. This resonates with much of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis assumes that a person’s development is determined by often forgotten events in early childhood rather than by inherited traits alone. In order to liberate the elements of the unconscious one has to bring this material into the conscious mind.

This practice echoes the Rabbinic story of Hanukkah. There we read:

What is Hanukah? As the Rabbis taught: The twenty-fifth of Kislev begins the eight days of Hanukah. 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)

The story of Hanukah it the discovery of that which was hidden. Metaphorically we bring the unconscious hidden material into the conscious to ensure that live enlightened lives.

As a nation a miracle happened in the Temple. And on the simplest level we relive this by recreating our homes as the Temple by the lighting of a menorah with just ” one light for a man and his household”. The more zealous observance is to make sure that each and every member of the house does the work of exploring our collective and individual past. When we do this work we will surely increase and not decrease in light.

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.

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.


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