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Considering Chanukah - For Adult Eyes Only

09/06/2016 11:39:17 AM


This time of year can be very difficult for Jews. Amidst the transcendence of Christmas, we may feel forgotten, left out. In response we have what I like to call the Chanukah hype. Suddenly a little story whose essence is about a nasty civil war is transformed into a major holiday about religious freedom. Chanukah becomes the holiday that celebrates the same values of our country - religious freedom, the victory of the underdog and even the pervasiveness of miracles. And yet Chanukah is really not about these ideas at its essence. On an adult level the lessons of Chanukah are of tremendous importance and should not be shrouded by niceties.

Consider the following - a large portion of this war was the Herllenized Jews and the Hasidim(Pious) Jews fighting against one another, the "miracle of oil" story only appears 400-500 years after the war, all Jews were the underdogs here - not just Judah macabre and his clan. In today's world Judah Maccabee would likely be among those militant Jews settling in the West Bank and causing political havoc. All of this gives me pause to wonder why we even celebrate Chanukah! I wonder if Chanukah were not during the Christmas season if we would have allowed it to take the place of the very minor holiday that it is.

Theologically, Chanukah is fraught with difficulties but there is more to our religious existence than theology. For many of us Chanukah evokes warm memories of family gatherings, the excitement of gift giving and the tantalizing smells of latkes and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts). The lit  Chanukah candles are beautiful and despite our collective cloudy memories of the true story, the told story of Chanukah has some good values. Dreidels are fun and chocolate gelt can be irresistible. But is it enough?

Perhaps as adults it is time for us to consider the true lessons of Chanukah - that is the truly unsettling realities of a fractured people. In the days of Antiochus our people broke apart. Steeped each in their own thinking, these two groups of Jews generated enough hatred toward each other that they were literally able to kill one another.The importance is not about who won and whether either group was "right" but rather the lesson that we can never descend to the depths that our people did in the days of Antiochus.

A thinking, conscious people will always have a variety of thoughts. Differences in though need to be more than tolerated; they need to be honored - as long as they as they recognize that we are all created b'tzelem Elohim - in God's image. For me, herein lies the true lesson of Chanukah - we all lost because we descended to baseless hatred and murdered one another. It is pretty easy to get caught up in our own rhetoric. It is much more difficult to hear the words of others and find and honor their value. In these tumultuous times, the Jewish people must see each other as one. Chanukah reminds us that the lights of tolerance, peace, kindness, compassion, generosity, dignity, love and patience are our path forward. 

as we spin the dreidel, may we spin away ill feeling. As we eat our latkes, may we taste the sweetness of our people. As we share our gelt, may we share from the fountain of Jewish life!

Happy Chanukah!


Tue, September 17 2019 17 Elul 5779