Bringing Light Into the Darkness

I pray you all had a connecting and gratitude-filled Thanksgiving week. I hope that around the table with your friends or family, or with whomever you spent some time, you took time to share your gratitude for life and each other, to focus on commonality even where there are differences, and on the enduring importance and nurturing of diverse relationships.

As we head towards this Hebrew calendar month of Kislev and Tevet, we are following up last year’s successful three Shabbat School Saturday’s, with the first of four, Shabbat morning, December 9th, in which we will have our member R. Michael Ramberg and special guests from the New sanctuary Movement with us, our Teen Leadership participants with Claire Brunhild, as we commemorate Human Rights Shabbat, and honor New and Founding Members of Mishkan Shalom. Quite a packed day!

Of course, Kislev also ushers in the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah where we will celebrate Hanukkah, our Festival of Lights and Rededication. We will gather communally with our school families Wednesday evening, December 13, for our first of three community meetings of the year, which we will begin with Hanukkah candle-lighting, and offerings from Makhelat Micha'el: Mishkan Community Choir. We also have a full Hanukkah Shabbat weekend of events to plug into as well. Please mark your calendars for this joyous and important night in the life of our community. It is a perfect opportunity to keep living into what we began in 5776 year- Elu V’Elu- “VAV Consciousness” into 5777, in strength.. through engagement and deepened in our 5778 focus this year on what is life sustaining, loving, just and community-building.

In more recent years, Hanukkah has taken on a life of its own, in terms of religious freedom, responding to the tensions of commercialization, and dedication of one’s values in personal and public life. We can do this through giving of tzedakah to a different cause by every day of Hanukkah. We can also rededicate ourselves to our relationships and strengthen our commitments to each other in our Mishkan community and beyond.

In more recent years, Hanukkah has taken on a life of its own, in terms of religious freedom, the tensions of commercialization, dedication of one’s values in personal and public life through giving of tzedakah to a different cause by family choice every night of Hanukkah, and many more contemporary expressions. Judaism in the public square as exemplified by the lighting of a communal hanukkiah or Hanukkah menorah here in Philadelphia and elsewhere is a concrete example of the mainstreaming of Hanukkah into American life.

Interestingly the books of Maccabees (I and II, as well as the later III and IV) were only preserved in the Christian Bible and not in the Hebrew Bible. The story of the miracle of oil that last eight days is a later rabbinic layering on the Hanukkah event to distance from the initial political and spiritual revival in 167-8 BCE that had descended into corruption by the time of the fall of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, saw Hanukkah as a key festival in the ongoing reconstructing of Jewish life to remain relevant and compelling in our time. His words resonate even more deeply given some of the hateful rhetoric and lack of civility in the recent election cycle and the racism, homophobia, antisemitism, and xenophobia that have come into the open:

If the observance of Hanukkah can awaken in us the determination to reconstruct Jewish life, by informing it with a religious spirit characterized by absolute intellectual integrity, unqualified ethical responsibility and the highest degree of aesthetic creativity, it will indeed be a Festival of Dedication.” The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion.

In explaining why, the Hasmonean Jewish leaders constructed the blessing “to kindle Hanukkah light” and not “lights”, Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel writes, “A person drawn to one light believes if another person is predisposed to different lights the quality of light is diminished. However, as each person strives to strengthen the positive aspect toward which they are naturally inclined, the collective is built up and improvements multiply… Peace will prevail in the future when it is clearly recognized that all of the different, individual lights are in fact one single light.” Olat Re’iyah, p.435.

Our Jewish tradition, spiritual practices and core commitment to tikkun (repair and rebalancing of the world and of our own souls) can and must guide us through the turbulent seas we now navigate. The possibilities and challenges of Hanukkah are imperatives for us today. I wish all of you a hag sameah as we explore the season of light in the darkness and darkness in the light- with all of us realizing we are in fact part of one precious planet, and one radiant light- AND this light will not self-regulate. We will need to re-dedicate, “Hanukka-ize” ourselves if you will, through radical love and determined activism over-and-over again to nurture and keep our eyes, our focus on what enhances life, be shomrim/protectors of the principles, values and ethical and holy behavior we hold dear.  

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