CHANUKAH PAST CHANUKAH PRESENT CHANUKAH FUTURE

In discussing whether a Chanukah light that was prematurely extinguished musty be rekindled, the Talmud cites that the mitzvah (commandment) of lighting Chanukah candles extends from when the sun sets until foot traffic has vanished from the market. Implied of course is that the (optimum)  time for lighting the oil/candles of Chanukah is from dusk, until the end of what has come to be known as the evening rush hour.

Yet, the phraseology of time employed by the Talmud begs interpretation. To be sure, Judaism is a time-bound religion, very much concerned about the earliest and latest time one may perform mitzvot. Typically, Judaism refers to dusk as bein ha shmashot  (between the “suns” viz. the sun and the moon) and the end of evening rush hour as tzeit ha kochavim (emergence of the stars). Why then the departure from the norm in phraseology when the topic is Chanukah lights?

Through the ages, it has become pretty much accepted that the kindling of Chanukah lights is for external purposes. Long before neon signs were invented, our religious leaders deemed it vital that the outside world is made aware of a divine quid pro quo sign of gratitude, bestowed upon the Maccabees. Very much impressed that a small, ill-equipped and poorly trained rag-tag army took on a fighting force of ancient Hellenists, thereby going against human nature, HaShem showed His recognition and appreciation by going against the very forces of nature, by having a one day supply of oil burn for eight.

Perhaps our religious leaders misunderstood the directive of the Chanukah Menorah. Perhaps the kindling of Chanukah candles was not for external purposes, but for internal purposes after all! Why should our religious leaders care what the outside world thinks? Did our religious leaders really believe that they could impress the outside world with Jewish miracles? Hasn’t Judaism always prided itself as being a live and let live religion?  Perhaps the initial dictate of placing the candles outside one’s door and later on at one’s window was a message to the Jews themselves! Perhaps that message was “before you go out and let yourself become absorbed by the outside culture (placing the menorah outside one’s door), perhaps before you look out to see what’s out there in the outside culture (placing the menorah by one’s window), look first at the Chanukah candles. Be mindful that if you are looking for the “greatest show on earth” then look no further. Our very own Judaism provides it.

This past Shabbat, at Se’udah Shleesheet or the third Shabbat meal, we studied five similarities that exist between Chanukah and Pesach. Long before Charles Dickens wrote about Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future, our sages spoke about Pesach Past (our ancestor’s departure from Egypt), Pesach Present (our annual celebration of the Festival of Freedom throughout the generations) and Pesach Future (our being able to celebrate our ultimate redemption). Perhaps the same can be said about Chanukah! Perhaps our festival of miracles lends itself to Chanukah Past, Chanukah Present, and Chanukah Future as well! Chanukah Past occurred over two millennia ago when a small band of Maccabees accomplished the miraculous in warfare and then witnessed the miraculous in oil. Chanukah Present has been our reenactment of the miracle of yore through the annual kindling of Chanukah lights. It may very well be, that Chanukah Future is what the above stated Talmudic dictum has been alluding to all along!

When the sun sets may not be in reference to the time of day, but rather a time or era to come. When the sun sets may, in fact, refer to the time when the sun (viz. the other nations of the world, in that the other nations count by the sun, while Israel counts by the moon -Talmud, Sukkah 29a) is no longer looked up to by Jews. When foot traffic has vanished from the market may, in fact, refer to the propensity of our people to visit the “market” of foreign cultures. When that time comes, when Jews cease to be infatuated by the sun and finally stop running to the market, the flame of the Chanukah candles will no longer need to be relit, for we Jews will no longer have a need to be reminded that it is the light within that illuminates.

HELL!

Last week, the White House hosted its 19th official Chanukah party. I was not invited. But a Southern Baptist Minister who preaches not far from Tiferet was. And predictably, a good many Jews were in an uproar. As far as they are concerned, a Chanukah party is no place for a  man of the cloth, who has in the past preached that those who do not accept Jesus into their lives will end up in hell.

Hell! If clergy were able to decide who ends up in Hell, there would be a waiting list from here to eternity. Countless are the number of times clergy have flippantly muttered  “go to hell” to drivers who cut them off in traffic or to drivers who won’t let them into another lane of traffic. Why, there is a place reserved in hell for all who are employed at the DMV in this city because of clergy who, along with others, have had to wait for hours to renew their drivers’ licenses. (Believe it or not, clergy are right up there with the best of them when it comes to cussing.) Regardless of the Theological Seminary this Southern Minister White House invitee attended it is my belief, that it is the Creator of the World, together with His heavenly tribunal, and not religious leaders, who will decide whether heaven or hell is the ultimate destination for any soul who has departed this world. Can it be that this Southern Baptist Minister along with others like him have some inside line when they so confidently spout the “final destination” of those who do not accept Jesus into their lives?


Hell! Most Jews don’t believe in Hell anyway. According to a Pew report conducted five years ago, a paltry 22% of Jews believe in Hell. While I have no evidence to support this, I cannot help but feel that more Jews believe in Santa Claus than Hell. Why then the ire over a guest at an annual White House Chanukah party, who tells those who do not accept Jesus into their lives that they are destined for a place that most Jews maintain does not exist? As a rabbi, I am indignant. More Jews care what a Southern Baptist Minister has to say about their ultimate destiny, than care what I, a rabbi,  have to say about their current status in this world. Publicly, I try very hard not to take fellow Jews to task, especially those who are at services. And that includes those who fall asleep during my Shabbat morning Torah talk! Hell has no fury like indignant Jews for a man of the cloth who, on the one hand, intimates that as rejectors of Jesus we are headed for Hell, yet on the other hand, has the chutzpah to show up at a White House party celebrating a Jewish festival.

Hell! This cleric has his head in the clouds. Clearly, he has no understanding whatsoever of the meaning of Chanukah story! Does he not appreciate the message of the Maccabean victory? Over two thousand years ago, a band of our coreligionists took up arms to protest a culture, as well a religion, that flew in the face of Judaism. Two thousand years ago, a band of coreligionists went to fight for religious freedom and religious tolerance. Because this ancient band of coreligionists respected, yet rejected, an ancient belief system and culture that was not theirs, the very message of Chanukah is the right, nay the duty, of contemporary Jews to respect, yet reject a contemporary belief system and culture that is not theirs, as well. Other than opportunism, it is therefore beyond me why this man of the cloth who espouses credentials for entrance into Heaven, would accept an invitation to attend a celebration that rejects deities (including Jesus)  that are contrary to Judaism.

Personally, it matters not one iota to me whether this Dallas preacher attends a Chanukah celebration at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in this nation’s capital. He does, however, make himself look ridiculous by doing so. By joining a group of people who not only reject Jesus as the savior but the very existence of Hell, as well. Similarly, it is beyond my understanding, why so many are up in arms for his showing “his face in the place.”

As I extend my heartfelt and sincere wishes for a Merry Christmas to my fellow man of the cloth, as well as to all those of the Christian faith, may I be so bold as to remind them that if “peace on earth” is to have any real meaning, then instead of espousing necessary credentials for entry into heaven,  perhaps our primary focus ought to making our society just that much more heavenly.

EIGHTY

For so many in this country, this past Sunday went by largely unnoticed. Other than being part of Labor Day weekend, precious few were aware that this past Sunday marked the 80th anniversary of the beginning of World War II. As Jews, we have a sacred task. Aside from continuing to serve as the moral conscience for a world that would all too willingly relegate remembering World War II to historians, we Jews must look for a deeper meaning to this 80th anniversary. The carnage that occurred between September 1, 1939 and May 8, 1945 must not be viewed solely in terms of a world war; the carnage that occurred between September 1, 1939  and May 8, 1945 must be viewed as a war that was thrust upon the Jewish world!

It was the great Talmudic sage Yehudah ben Teima who taught us that 80 is commensurate with strength. Little could he have realized just how prescient his words would prove to be. These last 80 years have been years of amassing unimaginable strength, both for Jews in Israel as well as for Jews here in these United States. During this time period (actually only 71 years, since Israel did not become a sovereign state until May 1948) Israel has succeeded in building an army that is feared by its enemies, begrudgingly respected by those who are ambivalent towards the Jewish State, and admired by her friends. From a non-military aspect, I never cease to be amazed by the non-stop construction of factories, office buildings and private homes; I continue to remain in awe at the founding of new towns and the paving of new roads. As for Jews in this country,  who could ever have dared to imagine back in 1939 that there would come a time where there would be annual Chanukah parties at 1600 Pennsylvania  Avenue? Our strength is not that there are Jews who are members of the first family, but that for the most part, American Jews are nonchalant about it. Currently, there are at least two presidential hopefuls who are either Jewish or who have Jewish spouses. Again, American Jews remain un-phased.

Centuries after Rabbi Yehudah ben Teima, lived Rabbi Chanina who was known for his wit when it came to word plays. An example his ingenuity can be found  toward the end of Shabbat services, between Ein Keloheinu and Aleinu, where he asks us to read a word as “Bonei’ich” (builders) rather than “Banei’ich” (sons). In the spirit of Rabbi Chanina, I suggest that “shmonim” the Hebrew word for “eighty” be read as “shmanim” (oils), a word that appears in the all-time Chanukah favorite “Ma’oz Tzur.” I do so, because for the better part of eighty years, we have been amassing Holocaust stories and vignettes that defied the odds and were therefore very much Chanukah in nature. With our marking the 80th anniversary or “shmonim shanah,” perhaps the time has come for us to focus on “shmanim”  or oils that are post Holocaust defying of odds, where survivors built and produced and contributed in ways that far surpass  the building, producing and contributing of those who never knew from such horrors. Not unlike Chanukah, it borders on the incredulous when one accomplishes the unimaginable during periods of darkness; not unlike Chanukah, survivor stories border on the incredulous, given what they were able to accomplish during periods of light.

On any typical weekday during Shacharit and Mincha, we implore the Guardian of Israel, “Al yovad goy echad” that the “unique nation” not be destroyed. If there were ever a time for this imploration to take on special meaning, it would be at this very moment. Numerically, “al yovad goy echad” equals 80. This nation, the Jewish nation, I believe is here to stay. Whether or not this nation remains unique is dependent upon us.

For the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II to have meaning in our lives, let us look back on these eight decades and regard them as 80 years of distinction, 80 years of defying the odds, and 80 years of strength.