The Value of Lights
Feasts are mostly recurrent and cherished rendezvous celebrated throughout the year. Hanukkahחנוכה or the “Feast of the Lights” is a special moment. The festivities might have mentally begun for some people with Halloween. The Russians did introduce Santa Claus’ clone festival in some Ded MorozДед Мороз (Granpa “Freeze”) mainly consisting of sweets, cakes, letters to get some gifts by the end of the civilian year. Well pumkins, carrots, Thanksgiving turkeys, chocolates…
It is time to get the sufganyotסופגניות or jelly doughnuts that are more and more sophisticated. The Ashkenazi’s prefer to add the “latkesלאטקעס – fried potatoes pancakes”. Of course a lot of balloons. We love balloons at all times in this country and a lot of mishloachמשלוח – gifts or chanikke-geltחנכה-געלט, special Hanukkah money for the children. Say that
We pass from what the Jews have always considered as the above “Gentile” Feasts to the miracle that happened in the Temple. Things are not so simple. It seems that, in mixed families, “Chrismukkah”, combining Hanukkah with Christmas are slowly replaced by separate and more coherent feasts.
In the end, there is a kind of secular “chres’mas” feast that is more secular in some parts of the country, showing unclear X-mas trees and Santa Claus intertwined with candles…
With regards to Hanukkah, during eight days, we shall everywhere light the eight candles by using the first one, the shamashשמש = server. Huge candelabra lightning usually organized by the Lubavitch ChaBaD. They also distribute small ones, more homely. Joyous days for times of uncertainty.
One thing is sure: light overcame and overcome darkness and ” Nes Gadol Haya Poנס גדול היה פה – a big miracle happened here (in Israel) or Shamשם – there (as viewed from the diasporas)”. It is more luminous to interrogate your “dreyd’lדריידל or savivonסביבון” (little top) about your future than any soothsayer in town.
Hanukkah is the only Jewish feast that leaps over two months: it starts on Kislev 24 (12/20) and ends on Tevet 2 (12/28/2011). The shamashשמש (server) used to light the candles is the source of flushing sun brightness (shemeshשמש). Indeed, Hanukkah is more lunar reminding about how the Moon births each month, then disappears still constantly showing again as a sign of Divine Providence and care.
Miracles are God’s flickering winks. But even if God shows much confidence in us – quite unbelievable by the way! – what is more important to learn or experience this year through this feast? A victory? God’s constancy? our survival and humankind’s existence? Or God’s shining pardon when we hardly can stand or appreciate each other?
The weekly reading portion reports how Joseph, Jacob’s preferred son, had received a splendid tunic. His competences and good look inflamed his brother’s jealousy. They sold him to an Ishmaelite. There is a point: it made more sense to them to sell him rather than killing him. In the original text, there is no moral or spiritual discussion. Joseph could be killed. The brothers were more afraid of their father Yaakov than of God. By selling him, they could at least think they could “capture” the price of the tunic. Human societies as such that we also can prove the existence of tunics and “clothes” and still murder those who should or could wear them.
Joseph kept the moral attitude. He steadfastly refused to step down and be seduced by Potifar’s wife. She put him to jail. There, he started interpreting dreams with insights and finally was called to explain Pharaoh’s nightmares about some cows’ forms.
He thus predicted seven super-productive years followed by seven years of hunger. So get ready to spare and develop your economic system was Joseph final touch to Pharaoh who assigned him as his chief governor. Last but not least, in Genesis 38, the role game between Tamar and Judah, who cheated and abused her… or each other.
With regards to cows and economic collapse, this is very up-to-date. Everywhere in the world soothsayers will show to explain how the upcoming years will be full of hardships, under- and unemployment growing in the rich countries, more indebtness and poverty. We raely feel responsible in such situations. Egoistic and self-centered reactions are the common rules.
We do not see or hear some prophets who could teach us the value of time, the wisdom of time and how we can “spend both time and values”. This is why the Book of Kohelet is wise: there are indeed times and instants, delays, periods. It makes man human and humane to be able to “manage” in terms of righteousness and growth the time and measures that are entrusted to us.
This is totally on line with Hanukkah. It is evident that we can connect Hanukkah to the historical events that happened when the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus Epiphanes. He decided to annihilate the Jews in 167 B.C. We always focus on the Maccabean revolt and fight. True.
But, to begin with, it is important to underscore the frightful passivity of the Jews in times when pleasures, leisures and la-la land ways of living were more agreeable with some Greek tact than to make one’s existence a sacrifice for the traditional realm of the Mitzvot-מצות/ Commandments.
This is a constant test for the Jews. We easily can trap ourselves in some pleasuring places and habits. The same as for Exodus from Egypt: once free in the desert, the ancestors regretted “the onions of Egypt”! – not some latkes or sufganyot for which one can get nuts and lose full dough.
In that particular case, they were ready to lose their souls and brains. They wanted to go back to the place where they could get but their usual food + slavery = wonderland.We are quite the same right now! The problem is that we are the world and Faith has spread all over the planet. “Exodus” would imply to get out from where we already went out but it is far more difficult to figure out. When peoples have been saved and released several times and convinced themselves and the others that the yare more free than anywhere else, it is not time to flee to March or the Moon or any other star to find some “Little Prince” and a new society to convince. We sit “put” in our prejudices and still want to be redeemed.
Some areas are so spoiled at the moment that they just cannot see that they are in the same situation as when decadence and sliding down morals were collapsing. On the one hand everything is cheap and still it costs huge amounts of money.
With regards to the Greek culture that had spread throughout ancient world, the prestige of the language, culture, refined lifestyles, ancient Greek salads or so as we do love them, the music that spaces us out, all these habits developed into slowdowns toward the observance of the Jewish traditions and Temples services.
At least, Greek culture focuses on beauty, absence of scars, hedonistic and philosophical positions. The Jews got re-operated – rejecting Judaism and the sign of circumcision – in order to participate, for example, in the Olympic games.
Is it so remote from our way of living? We live in a Jewish State. A blessing – good enough! If we can really and freely accept the yoke of the mitzvot/Divine Commandments. It may happen that we behave as part-time new pagan peoples that arrived in Israel from all the parts of the world.
We would not wear one kippah or woman head cover at home (abroad) and suddenly would get three on the top. At some bus stations very pious young boys and girls are disguised like Halloween pumpkins avatars till they get into the bus, put on the yarmulke (skull caps), change their look into more modest dress.
A real Jew has to comply with constraints that are not easy to observe and require in-depth education and training. Thus, the Maccabees acted as true fighters, but in a way that is rather similar to the despotism imposed by the then hated Greeks.
The problem was that the Syrian-Greek emperor decided to destroy the Jewish way of living by imposing a ban on three major “Mitzvot” / Commandments of the Torah: a) To cancel the sanctifying of the New Month (Rosh chodeshראש חודש); b) To abolish the Brit-Milahברית מילה (circumcision) the sign of the Covenant with Abraham; and c) To suppress the celebration of the Shabbatשבת, the day on which the Jewish Community recognizes that God is the Creator of the Universe and that He gave His Law (Torahתורה) in order to comply with His Will.
The High Priest Matityahu ben Yohanan, from the town of Modi’in decided to fight Antiochus in order to preserve the values. Was it a “national – nationalistic” movement? Is it possible to speak of “ethnic/ethnicity the way it is rather trendy, in particular in the New World Eastern Orthodoxy Churches?
The actions conducted by the High Priest and his family mainly preserved a conscience of God’s Presence and reality, His morals and Words. They evicted the oppressors after three years of harsh struggle but the victory was mainly a spiritual miracle. They took over the Temple of Jerusalem. Thus they had to purify and to re-dedicate it. They found a single cruse of olive oil and could light the lamps of the menorah (candelabra, a “lamp” in Hebrew), which burnt for eight days in a row.
The miracle of the light showed at that time the importance of spiritual struggle and resistance, which are still very much an up-to-date challenge. We might often give up our religious forces and abandon the commandments of God.
A community of faithful can be destroyed by using two different methods. This does not only concern the Jewish Community but also the Christians:
a) Physical annihilation as the Jews were exterminated during World War II at the time of the Shoah-שואה/ Churbanחורבן (reduction to nothing) (catastrophe) and previously mentioned in the Bible in the small scroll of Esther. This is the Feast of Purim.
b) Cultural annihilation, which is often very subtle and not very clearly determined. The purifying of the Temple by the Hasmoneans shows this particular kind of spiritual behavior giving to God the right and first place. In the Christian world this is very similar to the spiritual resistance of the saints and martyrs throughout history, especially over the 20th century.
The first step of the struggle conducted by the Maccabees ended on 25 Kislev and this is one of the explanations given for the name of the Feast: Hanukkah, i.e. “HaNUKHהנוח” = “they rested [on the KH = 25כ”ה]”.
In fact the word is mentioned in the Second Book of the Maccabees since Hanukkah is “dedication, inauguration” (Talmud Tractate Shabbat 21b). This tiny lamp of oil was found unexpectedly. Would it be possible to compared this to the song we sing during Pessach: “Dayeinuדינו” :”If God had only done such and such a miracle… that would have sufficed”?
Indeed, we are not strong in confessing (our) faith. At times, we might understand that what is imperiled, in ourselves as in our society, is precisely God’s Presence and steadfastness. It did suffice for God’s witnesses that one single oil lamp was ready to burn. They rededicated the Temple.
In this respect, Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount are interesting: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses it taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is not longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:13-17).
Av aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel