Here is my sermon from this past Friday night. The Light 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!
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?
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!
I want to wish each of you a light filled Chanukah.
I hope you will extend your inner light to someone else this year.
A smile, a helping hand, a listening ear, a gift of tzedakah for those in need.
I hope you will be inspired by the story of Chanukah with the courage of the Macabees.
I hope you will be inspired to believe that you can do what seems impossible.
I hope you will dedicate and rededicate holy space in your life to blessing life and God’s gift of life.
I hope that you will come celebrate Chanukah with me on Friday, Dec. 14, at 7 pm at Congregation Kol Ami and don’t forget your Chanukiah so we can do all these things together!
Don’t forget tonight is the fourth candle! Celebrate with me and Kol Ami at Hollywood & Highland in the main courtyard-Calypso Shabbat Chanukah! It will be an amazing Shabbat Chanukah experience. We begin the festivities at 6 pm…. Hollywood & Highland is at 6801 Hollywood Blvd.
Afterwards dinner at BOHO!
This week’s Torah Portion Mikketz continues the story of Joseph now in Egypt. This week Joseph rises from the depth of prison to interpret the Pharaoh’s dream and ends up the Viceroy of all of Egypt! This is true rocket power! Joseph a foreign slave catapults himself to be the #2 in Egypt. Joseph correctly explains the Pharaoh’s dream of seven fat cows and seven skinny cows predicting the coming cycle of boom and bust. Joseph of course attributes the message not to Pharaoh’s own power but to God.
“Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dream of Pharaoh is a single one: what God is about to do, God has told to Pharaoh; the seven good cows are seven years and the good ears (of corn) are seven years. Now the seven emaciated and bad cows that emerged after them –they are seven years; as are the seven emaciated ears scorched by the east wind. There shall be seven years of famine. (Gen 41:25-27).
Not only does Joseph interpret the dream but he then presents a plan for preparation for these years. His skills are transformational. And Pharaoh recognizes this wisdom in Joseph. Pharaoh takes a risk and names him in charge of this plan to manage the seven good years so that in times of famine Egypt will be prepared.
The Torah teaches us in these passages two profound things. First faith in God matters. Joseph’s success and protection came not because of his skills alone. It came because he was aware of his Higher Power. Joseph acknowledges his truth that God lights his way in the world even above that of the Pharaoh. This is a radical political statement as well as statement of faith because the Pharaohs of Egypt were seen as gods. Joseph stands up to power, speaks truth and honesty, and also keeps his faith in God.
The second profound message of this section of Mikketz has to do with disaster preparedness. One must always be prepared; for good times and for bad times. It is not if they will happen but when. If we ignore the warnings and put blinders on we will sacrifice our own lives. So like a good Girl Scout: Be Prepared. That means putting something away for a rainy day.
This portion comes as we celebrate Chanukah. This is a holiday of light that reminds us that God helps us fight our battles against our enemies. Just as God inspired the faith of the Maccabees, we pray that God inspire us and help us draw near to our faith.
The story of the Maccabees also helps to remind us that we must be prepared. That we can last and last and last even when we think we have no more to give, this is the analogy of the jar of oil. But that cruse of oil is re-filled each day from our storehouse of faith and hope. It’s time to rekindle your faith. Let the chanukiah help you do so.