Hanukkah

I pray you all had a connecting and gratitude-filled Thanksgiving week. As Jews and partners committed to Jewish homes, we take this attitude of gratitude into the Festival of Lights and Rededication. It is a perfect opportunity to keep practicing what we focused on to begin this 5776 year - Elu V’Elu- “VAV Consciousness”. The multiplicity of perspectives and the holding of polarities and difference. Especially in a time when some in our own country are calling for a shutting of doors to those seeking refuge and an erosion of nuance and complexity or reality - keeping our focus on our ability to stay in relationship to our shared values and humanity, while allowing for divergence, is more of an imperative than a privileged option.

Not until after the Second World War, and more so since the founding of the modern State of Israel, did Hanukkah move from a minor holiday, with no cessation of work, ritual or ceremonies (except for candle-lighting at night). The Sages who rose to leadership after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. were hesitant about elevating a political and military victory into a religious celebration. As well, throughout the centuries it was not seen wise to teach a story about rebellion and revolution when you had minimal rights, if any, in the country that hosted you.

It was not until the latter half of the twentieth century that Hanukkah emerged as more than a footnote in Hebrew school and a family celebration. The founding of the modern state of Israel, the flourishing of Jews in North American political, social and economic life where the melding--in true Reconstructionist fashion--of a Jewish event and American and Canadian principles of freedom and pride in identity, and the concept of Christmas and gift giving, all contributed to the elevation of Hanukkah in the Jewish year cycle.

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. We do this through giving of tzedakah to a different cause by family choice every day of Hanukkah, social justice initiatives, such as our annual Human Rights Shabbat and Faith Communities Gun Control Shabbat December 5 and the beginning of our Pause and Refresh Your Soul Shabbat afternoon study and spiritual practice series,,. examining our use and misuse of natural resources in our Jewish communal Climate Change Sunday, December 6, our community meeting and candle-lighting with our school children, and the Mishkan Choir, December 9, A Way In/Mishkan Jewish Mindfulness Retreat Day Shabbat, December 12, and interfaith celebrations of various kinds.

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. We are participating in this as part of our membership in the Center-City Kehillah public hanukkiah lighting Tuesday December 5 at Rittenhouse Square, and our exciting Mishkan-on-Main Hanukkah potluck celebration in Manayunk Friday night, December 11. We will conclude our communal Hanukkah on Sunday, December 13, with the opening of a powerful photo-exhibit on the Old/New Jim Crow highlighting the ongoing work for freedom for civil rights and the Jewish commitment to the freedom of African-Americans and all peoples under the burden of oppression. The Library Committee’s panel on this very topic based on Simone Zelitch’s book Waveland and the Rosh Hodesh celebration and last night candlelighting will cap the week of our festivities.

Interestingly due to rabbinic ambivalence, the books of Maccabees (I and II, as well as the later II and IV) were only preserved in the Christian Bible and not in the Hebrew Bible. The story of the miracle of oil that lasted eight days is a later rabbinic layering on the Hanukkah event to distance from the initial political and spiritual revival in 167-8 B.C.E. that had descended into corruption by the time of the fall of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. The original experience is chronicled in the Books of the Maccabees after the recapture and rededication of the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem, three years after our people had lost control of it to the Syrian Greeks on the 25th of Kislev, 164 B.C.E:

“Like the eight day celebration of Sukkot, they celebrated in high spirits for eight days and recalled how a little while before, during the Sukkot festival they had been wandering in mountains and caverns like wild animals. Now carrying a branch wrapped in ivy and the lulav they praised God…They passed a public ordinance and decreed that the whole Jewish nation should observe these days every year.”  II Maccabees 10: 6-8 Rabbi

Mordechai Kaplan, saw Hanukkah as a key festival in the ongoing reconstructing of Jewish life to remain relevant and compelling in our time.

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.

The possibilities and challenges of Hanukkah are ripe for us to engage with today. We continue the great experiment of the meaning, relevancy and future of the Jewish people in a democratic and expansive culture- embracing the “VAV consciousness” of celebrating and embracing our religious, cultural and larger American identities. 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.

 

 

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