The Real Miracle of Chanukah

Tonight we will light both Chanukah lights and Shabbat lights.  One we can use and one we cannot.  According to the Talmud-the Shabbat lights can be used.  You can read by the light of the Shabbat tapers!  But Chanukah lights you can not use.  No reading by the light of the menorah.  The light of Chanukah is only to look at and to be reminded of the great miracle of Chanukah!

There is a great debate about what is the actual miracle of Chanukah. Some say it is the story in the Talmud Shabbat 21b:

What is the reason for Chanukah? For our Rabbis taught: On the 25th of Kislev begin the days of Chanukah, which are eight, during which lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils in it, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they [the Hasmoneans] searched and found only one cruse of oil which possessed the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient oil for only one day’s lighting; yet a miracle occurred there and they lit [the lamp] for eight days. The following year these days were appointed a Festival with the recitation of Hallel and thanksgiving.

This is the traditional answer. As I shared with you on night two the teaching of Rabbi David Hartman z’l, my teacher the miracle of the Maccabees was not that it lasted but they had the courage to light the Menorah in the temple on the first night knowing that they didn’t have enough oil to last. They lit it anyway- not knowing what the future would bring!

Others say the miracle is the fact that the Macabee army defeated the most powerful army in the world! After a raging and often bloody three year war the Macabees recaptured the temple and rededicated it ushering in a time of Jewish sovereignty.  That is the miracle of Chanukah too-a true Jewish nation!

And yet others teach the miracle of Chanukah is the light itself.  The Light is symbolic of God’s Presence here on earth. If you read the TANACH, each time the temple is dedicated or rededicated God takes up residence in the holy space with a power light.  It is God that is in the light that beams forth from our Menorot.  It is God’s presence in our lives that helps to brings light to a dark world at the darkest time of year.   That is why this is indeed the Festival of Lights.

There are lots of miracle to go around!  So give thanks for this holiday, for family and friends, and indeed for God’s light showing us the way!

Assimilation and Chanukah

Chanukah is anything but a child’s holiday.  Oh we have made it into a time for children with presents, and dreidles and silly Chanukah songs.  But this is a holiday that commemorates the conclusion of a brutal war.  The Syrian-Greek army against the priestly family and descendants of Mattethias who defended the rights of the Jews to worship and the ancient Temple from the Hellenizers-those Jews who would assimilate.  The irony is that in America where Jews are assimilating into the larger culture (according to the Pew Study) at an alarming rate, Chanukah is widely observed.  And yet the message of Chanukah is to resist assimilation to the larger secular and in the Maccabees’ time idolatrous culture.

The true message of the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees was the re-establishment of true Jewish sovereignty. For the first time since the Davidic monarchy Jews ruled over themselves.  Chanukah not only commemorates the rededication of the Temple but the defeat of Greek culture and religion and the return of a priestly family to power.  The Hasmonean dynasty would barely last 150 years as soon the Hasmonean dynasty made a deal with Rome-the successor to the Greeks!

So on this third night of Chanukah–proclaim your Jewish identity proudly, light your menorah and think about the ideals of Jewish sovereignty as they are played out today in Israel.  Ask a lot of questions about the balance of the larger culture with Jewish culture in your own life? How assimilated are you? What does Chanukah ask of your Jewish faith and identity?

Let It Shine Let It Shine Let It Shine

For the second night of Chanukah we should think about the idea of “pirsum et haMitzvah”  The commandment to publicize or promote the the lighting of the chanukiah.  Our rabbinic ancestors thought we should place our chanukiah in the window to show and share the light of Chanukah!  Of course there were times in our history when doing so would have been too dangerous and so the light had to be contained.  But now more than ever we the Jewish people do have light to be shared with everyone.  We have a prophetic tradition that calls upon each of us to stand up for those who can’t and we have a calling as the Jewish people to share the light of Torah and God with others.  So as the old spiritual says… This little light of mine I’m gonna’ let it shine…Let it shine let it shine let it shine!

Tonight on this Second night of Chanukah—do just that! Let your inner light shine.  Let God’s light bathe you and your family and friends and uplift your spirits.  And let the light of justice burn brightly in these difficult times.  Let it shine let it shine let it shine!

The Courage of Chanukah

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah.  I wish each of you a light filled week of miracles.   My teacher Rabbi David Hartman z’l taught that the miracle of Chanukah was not the little jar of oil that lasted for eight nights.  And it wasn’t the defeat of Syrian-Greek army by the Maccabees.  It wasn’t the recapture of the temple or its rededication.  But the real miracle was the courage it took for the Maccabees to light the Menorah in the Temple even though they knew they only had enough for one day.  They lit it anyways.  They could have delayed.  They could have said let’s wait until we make enough.  Instead they celebrated. They rejoiced that God had delivered them and as the prophet Zechariah teaches: Not by Might, Not by Power, but by MY Spirit alone.  They had the courage to light the Menorah even though they lacked the resources of additional oil.

Sometimes we must all act.  Even if we don’t know what the outcome will be.  We have to take the step forward and light a candle in the darkness.  Sometimes we are amazed and surprised to discover we had resources we didn’t even know we had.  This is the miracle of the Maccabees.  And this remains as a legacy for us.  So light a candle in the darkness and light the way for hope and justice!  Chag Urim Sameach, Happy Chanukah

David Saperstein Wins Confirmation to Religious Freedom Post by 61-35 Senate Vote

Mazal Tov to a true Jewish Hero! Rabbi David Saperstein has become the first non-Christian to be an ambassador for Religious Freedom!  Read more by clicking the link below!


David Saperstein Wins Confirmation to Religious Freedom Post by 61-35 Senate Vote.

My heart is moved

It has taken me a few days to write about the unfolding events in Ferguson and now NYC.  My heart has been so broken and saddened.  Having grown up in the deep South I know there is a definite undercurrent of racism in our country. I have seen it.  Memphis the place where Dr. King was murdered has always been a two tier city.  It has been one city for whites and another for blacks.  Racism infects everyone and everything in this country.  Even if you are person who is not a racist, we are all touched by the inherent racism in the systems of our nation from education to government, to the justice/injustice system, health care, business, religion- everything in our United States of America has been tinged with racism.  So much so that many of us can’t even see it when it is in front of us. Even as we promote civil rights for all and indeed we have made much progress in our Country in recent decades, we are far from confronting head on the effects of that deep racism.

The recent cases all over the country-not just in Ferguson, MO or NYC but in Los Angeles and Cleveland and myriads of other towns, hamlets and villages and cities speak to a continuing harassment by law enforcement of people of color.  Driving while black or brown is not just a joke it is real.  I have watched it happen.

In the Eric Garner case since the Grand Jury came back without recommending some sort of trial coupled with the similar outcomes in the Michael Brown case and others we are seeing the frustrations boil over. And it should be all of us who are outraged.

No one is talking about the way these cases are also informed by poverty.  No one is talking about the way these cases are examples of poor policing. No one is talking about the ingrained bigotry that infects our society.

But we must. We must talk about.  And when we are through confronting our fears and our hopes we must dismantle the systems which continue to hold black and brown people at a disadvantage.  There is enough of the Pie for everyone.  The Pie keeps growing, not shrinking when everyone has access to a good education and the possibility of proper work to take care of a family, and most importantly when a black man can walk down the street without suspicion that he is automatically doing something wrong.

I pray for the lives of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice and so many others. I pray for their families. And I pray for our nation to heal itself from the dis-ease of racism and bigotry.