Our view of the Galile

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chanuki-Yearnings Mikeitz 2010

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
“Your friend in Karmiel”
December 2nd 2010 -Volume I, Issue 9– 25th of Kislev 5771

Parshat Miketz/Chanukah


I’ve always thought it to be a strange holiday. I would probably say it is also the most misunderstood and misrepresented one  as well. In America, Chanukah has served Jews as being the Jewish response to the other team’s mid-winter holiday. “A festival of Lights-Instead of one day of presents we have eight crazy nights” to quote an unfortunately ignorant put-on-your-yamaka-its- time-for-Hanukah assimilated American Jew. They light their tree, we light our Menorah, They drink eggnog, and we eat latkas and doughnuts. They’ve got reindeers, sleighs and chubby guys in red suits sliding down chimneys and we have dreidels, Chocalate Gelt, Greeks and Maccabees. Not a great response and frankly I wouldn’t mind a little eggnog.

Here in Israel, there is no other team to compete with. Yet it is still a confusing holiday to figure out. For most Israelis, tragically, Maccabee has a greater association with basketball or with healthcare than it does with Chanukah. (It is the name of the Basketball league and also the large health care provider). For many Israelis it is a holiday that celebrates Jewish military prowess and the guts it took for us to stand up to the world power of that time. Although clearly that was never the intent of the establishment of the holiday and in truth Jews historically have never celebrated military victories, viewing them as necessary evils to maintain our survival and miracles of God, rather than expressions of Jewish might.

I have also read articles written by secular Israelis how Chanukah is a celebration of the victory against religious coercion. Again, a very strange conclusion to come to, being that the Greeks/Hellenistic Jews were really quite pluralistic; they were open to all religions and cultures. The battle of the Maccabees, quite the opposite, was for the right to have an exclusive religious Jewish practice in Israel and the Temple. Not something necessarily the average secularist would seem to find cause to celebrate.

 And perhaps best of all The Coalition of the Environment and Jewish Life’s “Light Among Nations” projects sees in the miracle of Chanukah and its energy efficient oil that lasts eight days, an opportunity to replace each of your light bulbs with a more energy efficient one. You may even win the Green Menorah award. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

At the other extreme you have the Yeshiva/Chareidi World that sees in Chanukah (and in general all Jewish holidays to a certain degree) a celebration of the power and dedication to Torah and the service of Hashem which brings miracles to rescue the Jewish people. The Menorah of course symbolizes Torah and Light. And the pure oil, a symbol of the uncontaminated-by-foreign-culture holy foundation which the Temple and Jewish service must be dedicated with. It is a message I was raised on in my Yeshiva upbringing and it somewhat works for me. Yet this year here in Eretz Yisrael, for the first time as a resident and Oleh, I feel I must find something different. Something new…yet something old. An idea from those days- for this time.

As I went to buy oil to light with, I asked the person in the store if he had any Shemen Zayit for my menorah. He gave me a strange cutesy Israeli look when I asked him that question though-although he clearly knew what I was referring to- and corrected me in that perfect Israeli way.
“Ein Lanu La’Menorah- Lazeh atah tzarich Koehin Babeit Hamikdash. Yesh Lanu Rak L’Chanukiya.” We don’t have any oil for the Menorah… for that you will have to see a Koehin at the Holy Temple. We only sell oil for a Chanukiyah.”
What the curly locked gentleman was pointing out to me- besides of course that he was smarter than me and more fluent in common Hebrew terminologies- no duh…- was that the term Menorah is really a reference to the seven branched candelabra that was specifically used in the Beit Hamikdash. Chanukiyah- our eight branched “menorah” (9 counting the Shamash) is not the same thing. In fact the Talmud teaches us that it is prohibited to create a Menorah, or any Temple vessel for that matter, as they may not be used outside of the Temple and its service. In fact our 8 branched Chanukiyah is really only a more modern innovation. Halacha only mandates lighting the oil or a candle. It can be done on soda cans, bullet casings, or even on top of ice cream sundaes. In earlier times a Chanukiah was not even used.

As I went to light my Menorah that evening (I can’t get into the habit of calling it that yet). It struck me for the first time… I wasn’t lighting the same thing as the Temple. My Menorah was a cheap spiritual imitation of the original. Here I stand in Israel not too far from the original temple, yet I’m still not there yet. I began to long for the “real” light. I think I began to finally understand what Chanukah was supposed to inspire us to feel.

This weeks Torah portion, and the Torah portions that always surround the Holiday of Chanukah contain the story of Yosef in Egypt. It is perhaps one of the most powerful and memorable stories in the Torah. Brothers’ fight, Yosef gets sold down to Egypt, the first Jew to really be entirely engulfed in a foreign society. Yosef, as the Jews in the times of the Maccabees, as Jews in almost every era of our history was faced with the greatest challenge that has threatened our people. The threat of assimilation. The forgetting of where we came from. Of our fathers home. Of what it used to be like and how we were meant to be.

Of all our forefathers Yosef is the one who cries the most. He cries when he first sees his brothers. He cries when he they don’t recognize him. He cries as he interviews Binyamin and when he is reunited with his father. The Medrash says that just as Yosef appeased his brothers through tears, so too, will God redeem the Jewish nation through tears. What are the tears of Yosef? The tears of Yosef are those that recognize how long it’s been since I’ve been home. The tears of Yosef are the tears that question if we have become too Egyptian to even be recognizable to our own people…. to our family… to our Father. Have we become so happy with our 8 branch Chanukiyot that we have forgotten that there is a 7 branch Menorah that we are still meant to be yearning to light?

I look into the lights of my candles and I think about those days; the battles that were fought not far from my house, to insure that we didn’t become “strangers” in our own land. I think of all my confusing Chanukahs of past and how it seems so clear over here that we’re almost back again. I imagine the joy and rejoicing of what that small group of Maccabees who were brave enough to turn away from doing what everyone else was and who looked inward and backward to where the Jewish people needed to be and took that leap, when they finally saw those candles lit once again. And then I sing my Maoz Tzur- the song that concludes and has more meaning and clarity than ever.
Bare Your holy arm
and hasten the End for salvation -
Avenge the vengeance of Your servants' blood
from the wicked nation.
For the triumph is too long delayed for us,
and there is no end to days of evil,
Repel Edom in the nethermost shadow
and establish for us the seven shepherds.

Hakeim Lonu Roeh Shivah- Return us to that Menorah that has only 7 which symbolizes all of our forefathers. Chanukah need not be confusing. We are told that the light of our Menorahs are the same light that was in the Mikdash, the Temple. Gaze into it. Long for it. Celebrate it’s return and pray to see it once again soon. It’s simple enough. May we celebrate it  together soon.

Have a inspiring Chanukah and Shabbos that brings the holy light into your homes.,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

In the meantime
I leave you with a

Best part of Chanukah

The Maccabeats?

MAttisyahu Miracle

NBA stars Hanukah messages


ISRAEL 6 day war Hanukah?

I Wish I were a Candle

1 comment:

  1. _ _ _ _ _ _ iii <--- chanukiya for nerds!

    You have such a beautiful way with words, as always. I hope you are not in the middle of the brush fires there. Be safe and well, I wish you all the best.

    Much love,

    Grace & Rivka