Posts Tagged 'Hanukkah'

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?


Yadid Frydman

Orlow P.S I’m 10 years


Meaningful Light

Hanukkah is a time of miracles. But which miracles? Maybe it is the miracle of the Maccabees. How else could we explain a small group of zealots being able to beat the stronger forces and regain control of the Temple? Maybe it is the miracle of the oil. What is the explanation for how a small jar pure oil that was only enough to last for one day could last for eight days? Or maybe the miracle is what I wrote about last week, the miracles that in retelling the story of the second miracle of the oil we were successful in overshadowing the first miracle of a civil war. But maybe there is yet another answer for why Hanukkah is time of miracles. Maybe the essence of Hanukkah is our ability to find meaning in history.

Hanukkah is in the depth of winter when the days are short and  the nights are long. What has all of our work on this world accomplished? It is understandable that we might be afraid of emptiness of the cold night sky. Time might passing us by, but what is our place in the universe? It is easy getting lost in the expanse of stars. Our lives seem infinitesimal in the context of the ever-expanding universe.

In the spirit of the holiday I was up last night I was up late reading as I am up tonight writing.  I had the pleasure of reviewing the end of Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal‘s Em HaBanim Semeichah.  In this amazing book Rabbi Teichtal refutes the anti- Zionism of his Hungarian Orthodox upbringing  and beautifully lays out a vision of redemption realized in a Jewish State of Israel. I have written about this book and Rabbi Teichtal in past posts. There in the conclusion we read:

This printing of this book began on parashat VaEira , 5703[1943], and was completed successfully on Thursday, parashat Miketz, the second day of Hanukkah, 5704 [1943]. May HaShem recall the miracles that God performed for our forefathers in those days and renew them for us today. May the following verses be fulfilled through us, “He puts an end to the darkness” ( Job 28:3) and ” The Jews had light and gladness and joy” ( Esther 8:16). So may it be for us, speedily in our days. Amen.

The project of Rabbi Teichtal’s  book was looking at all of the anti-Zionist sources that he grew up with through the lens of the history.  Every shred of his being was trying to make sense of the horrors of the Holocaust. In the depths of this darkness Rabbi Teichtal was looking for the light of meaning. It has been exactly 70 years since Rabbi Teichtal finished this opus on redemption and return. I was haunting reading these words in the middle of the night on Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is truly a holiday of miracles, but maybe it does not matter which miracles. Maybe the holiday itself is an invitation for us to see world history through the lens that there is meaning in the world. Perhaps the idea of miracles itself is human projection of meaning casting light into the darkness of an otherwise meaningless universe.

Unfortunately Rabbi Teichtal was not able to live out his Zionist dreams. He was murdered on a transport train in 1945 during the closing days of World War II. On this Hanukkah I hope that we are all blessed to be inspired by the memory  of Rabbi Teichtal z”l who’s light continues to shine despite having experienced the darkest era the world has ever known. Perhaps we can be inspired to cultivate in ourselves the curiosity and desire to seek out or project a meaningful light into the depths of our darkness.

Between Brothers

In VaYishlach, the Torah portion two week’s ago, Yakov is preparing to reconnect and to reconcile with his estranged brother Esav. Here we read about the mysterious encounter between Yakov and the angel. We read that:

And he ( Yakov) took them, and sent them over the stream, and sent over that which he had. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. ( Genesis 32: 24-25)

This is clearly am important moment. This is when Yakov and our whole nation become Yisrael. But, why did Yakov return over the Yabuk? On this, Rashi quotes the Talmud:

And Yakov was left alone. Said Rabbi Eleazar: He remained behind for the sake of some small jars. Hence [it is learned] that to the righteous their money is dearer than their body; and why is this? Because they do not stretch out their hands to robbery.(Hullin 91a)

Why would Yakov risk so much for these little jars? What was in these jars? If we go back to the beginning of his journey, we recall Yakov’s dream with the ladder. Upon waking up he consecrated that place with oil:

And Yakov woke out of his sleep, and he said: ‘Surely God is in this place; and I did not knew it.’ And he was afraid, and said: ‘How full of awe is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ And Yakov rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. ( Genesis 28: 16-18)

One reasonable reading is that these “small jars” had more of this consecrating oil in them. So why did he need them at this moment?

To understand this we need to understand Hanukkah. On its surfaces Hanukkah is a simple holidays. We see the themes of light breaking through the darkness, a small group banding together to beat a much stronger force, and the power of having faith in community. But like everything else in Jewish life nothing is ever as simple as it seems. So let’s look deeper into the three miracles of Hanukkah. One miracle is that small group of zealots were able to beat the stronger forces and regain control of the Temple. Keeping Yakov’s dream in mind we should not forget that when recovering the Temple they also recovered the Even haShetiya– the foundational rock that was his pillow and was at the center of many of our stories ( see Dome of the Rock). When they recaptured the Temple they found on small jar of oil for the menorah in the Temple. The second miracle was that despite the fact that this small jar only had enough oil for one day it lasted for eight days. This story about the miraculous Hanukkah oil has allowed us to look past focusing solely on the military victory. This is important in that the war was not a black and white fight between the Jews and the Greeks. Rather, it was a civil war between a small group of religious zealots and a larger group of their Hellenized Jewish brethren. In my mind this is itself the third miracle of Hanukkah. Our ability to tell the story of the second miracle of the oil to overshadow the first miracle of a civil war. The story of the oil helped cover over the other story of the recovery of the Temple with its foundational rock.

This year is special in that Hanukkah shares the calender with Thanksgiving. On its surface they are similar in that they are both days of giving thanks. But what is Thanksgiving? It is traced to a poorly documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. We retell the story of the first settlers to America who found salvation when they reached another foundational rock- Plymouth Rock.

But is that the real story of Thanksgiving? On October 3rd 1863 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday. There we read:

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union…It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

Like the third miracle of Hanukah, Thanksgiving is not really a story about the Pilgrams, but rather the constitution of a ritual of reconciliation post-civil war. Both Hanukkah and Thanksgiving represent the re-creation of national mythologies for the sake of mending the wounds of fighting between brothers. We in camping appreciate the impact of a good story regardless of its being true. Camp in its essence is an artificially manufactured community built on rituals, traditions, and history that need not be based on fact. It is here in this miraculous fabricated narrative that we create enduring memories of brotherhood. So while the story might not be true, the community could not be any more real.

So now I return to Yakov. Why did he return to get the small jars of oil? Like the Rabbis take on Hanukkah and Lincoln’s proclamation of Thanksgiving, Yakov was getting the oil in preparation to reconcile with his brother Esav. The stories we tell are the foundational rocks of our culture. The true miracle of our holidays is the oil that helps us rewrite those stories to make peace between brothers. Have a very meaningful Thanksgivukkah. Happy holidays.

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