Friday, December 19, 2008

Little oil lamp: a surplus of light

Feasts are mostly considered as regular and cherished rendezvous celebrated all through the year. Hanukkah or the "Feast of the Lights" is a special moment. The festivities might have mentally begun for some people with Halloween. The Russians introduced Santa Claus' clone festival in some Ded Moroz\дед Мороз (Granpa "Freeze") mainly consisting of sweets, cakes, letters to get some gifts by the end of the civilian year. Well pumpkins, carrots, Thanksgiving turkeys, chocolates... It is time to get the sufganyot\סופגניות or jelly dough nuts that are more and more sophisticated. The Ashkenazim prefer to add the "latkes\לאטקעס - fried potatoes pancakes". Of course a lot of balloons. We love balloons at all times in this country and a lot of mishloach\משלוח - gifts or chanikke-gelt\חנוכה-געלט, special Hanukkah money for the children. Today, December 19th is the St. Nikolaos day and it is celebrated in the West on December 6th. From that day till January 19th (Feast of the Theophany, Old style) Jews and Christians are involved in a period of rejoicing in the light.

In Israel and in the diaspora, mixed families developed a sort of "Chrismukkah", combining Hanukkah with Christmas are slowly replaced by separate and more coherent feasts. Finally, 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 from Sunday 21 of to Monday 29th/Kislev 24 (at night) - Tevet 2 - כסלו כ"ד עד טבת ב, the Jews will light the seven candles by using the first one, the shamash\שמש = server. Huge candelabra lightning usually organized by the Lubavitch ChaBaD. Joyous days for times of uncertainty. One thing is sure: light overcame and overcome darkness and " Nes Gadol Haya Po\נס גדול היה פה - a big miracle happened here (in Israel) or Sham - there (as viewed from the diasporas)". It is more luminous to interrogate your “dreyd’\דריידלl or savivon\סביבון” (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 and ends on Tevet 2 . The shamash (server) used to light the candles is the source of flushing sun brightness (shemesh\שמש). 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 winke-winke signs or signals. 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 parshat hashavua (weekly pericope) recounts how Joseph, Jacob's preferred son had received a splendid tunic. His competences and good look inflamed his brothers’jealousy. They sold him to an Ishmaelite, He steadfastly refused to be seduced by Potifar's wife who managed to put him in jail. There he was interpreting dreams with insights and finally was called to explain Pharaoh's nightmares about some cows' forms. He thus predicted seven superproductive 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.

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 decided to annihilate the Jews in 167 B.C. We always focus on the Maccabees revolt and fight. True. To begin with, it is important to underscore the terrible 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/ Commandments. This is a constant test for the Jews. We easily can trap ourselves in some pleasuring places and habits.

This should be a real alerting alarm for some members of the Jewish communities: Jews do love life and know how to enjoy it to the fullest. We can really feel profound insights in accomplishing the divine statement on the seventh day of the creation: "It was very good - היה טוב מאד ". For the Gentile world it echoes like a permanent alert: take care, good care and be careful, not to fall into misdeeds or transgression. We have a simple example at the present with the Madoff banking disaster. He just behaved in accordance with the rest of the bank system corrupt managers; just a bit too much because Jews have to behave...

The same as for Exodus from Egypt: once free in the desert, the ancestors regretted “Egyptian onions”! – 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 but return to what was their usual food + slavery = wonderland. Now, as concerns 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. It is a blessing if we can really and freely accept the yoke of the Mitzvot\מצות. It may happen that we behave as part-time new pagan people that arrived in Israel from any part 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 as Halloween pumpkins till they get into the bus, put on the yarmulke, change their look into more modesty.

A real Jew must accept constraints that are not easy to observe. It requires 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 chodesh\ראש חודש-ר"ח); b) To abolish the Brit-Milah\ברית מילה (circumcision) the sign of the Covenant with Abraham; and c) To suppress the celebration of the Shabbat, the day on which the Jewish Community recognizes that God is the Creator of the Universe and that He gave His Law (Torah\תורה) in order to comply with His Will. This is meaningful in comparison to "incarnation". Jews are born from Jewish feminine wombs that mirror the Temple/Holy of Holies\דביר . By suppressing circumcision in the flesh and the measures of special times and delays (new moon, Shabbat), Jews were not obliged to "assimilate. They lost there salt and taste of Divine Presence.

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? It mainly preserved God, 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 and needed 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.

There are two ways in destroying a community of faithful and this concerns not only 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/ Churban\שואה-חורבן (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 clear to determine and 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. "HaNUKH\הנוך" = "they rested [on the KH\כ"ה = 25]" to be compared with "Hankiyah\הנכיה-deduction, diminution " as stated: "Sota V, 20: "a Pharisee "from deduction" who pretends "I take from what is mine" (I stint myself) in order to do a good deed").

In fact the word is mentioned in the Second Book of the Maccabees since Hanukkah\חנוכה 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: “Dayeinu\דינו” :”If God had only done such and such a miracle… that would have sufficed”? Indeed, we are not strong in 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).

Chag Urim sameach! חג אורים שמח

Av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

December 19/6, 2008 - 22 Kislev 5769 - כ"ב דכסלו תשס"ט

בחיכל שלמה - בית-כנסת הגדול בירושלים
Heichal Shlomo - Jerusalem

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