Friday, December 26, 2008

Thoughts on the Latter Days of Hannukah in a Christian Land

The frequent overlap of Channukah and Christmas often gives rise to well meaning misstatements. One such misstatement is that Channukah is a "minor holiday" This is a misconception. It is minor only if you attach less importance to a holiday during which one may not drive or kindle flame such as Shabbos, Passover Shavuos, Sukkos , Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.

The outcome of Channukah was that the Bet HaMikdash was rededicated after a long period during which it was forcibly appropriated for idolatry. The miracle of the oil, in whih a vial of pure oil was made to last eight days is told for very profound reasons.

The menorah in the Bet HaMikdash (which has seven and not eight branches has a correlation to the openings in the human head. Two ears, two eyes, two nostrils and a mouth add up two seven. These openings are not only sensory gates but also the portals through which air, the most basic substance appointed for our physical survival reaches us. When we listen to and speak the word of G-d, these orifices are illuminated and elevated.

The lesson of Hannukah is a universal one of repentance and return. The oil that was found undefiled represents that last voice of G-dliness, the conscience that does not stay silent when a person is completely mired immorality and denial of G-d.

The historical lesson which comes back to its central focus involves finding our spiritual centre and purifying our Bet HaMikdash of the influences alien to Judaism that had been put into it. The Greeks did not mind if we observed rational commandments. They cared only if we observed supra rational commandments such as circumcision and keeping kosher. They could accept the Torah as literature. They could not accept its veneration and adherence to its statutes as the word of G-d. They in fact took harsh measures to counteract such attitudes and practices.

The central focus of Jewish survival was Torah study, even at the risk of being killed for it. The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe narrowly risked getting killed for his efforts in this regard. Many of his followers did indeed also lose their lives in Stalin's gulag. Tens of thousands of other Jews also paid heavy prices for their Torah observance. I do focus on Jews under communism not to slight the millions of Christians murdered but to stress that godless communism was as much a plague for Jews as it was the rest of humanity. Those who were driven to embrace communism by the Czar and Christian Jew hatred paid a heavy price for their abandonment of Judaism. This is a needed counterbalance to the demagogic blame that is thrust upon Jews for pushing communism upon the world.

It is not the Jewish way to rejoice in warfare. But it has its place. Torah study provides the particulars of observance and a raison d'etre. But we are not pacifists. It says in Ecclesiastes that there is "a time of peace and a time of war." Jewish warriors from Jerusalem to Warsaw, from the Maccabees to the IDF are like the glass around the candle that is carried in a wedding procession. The candle burns brightly only because the glass is protecting it. A Jewish soldier's motive is that which he is protecting, the people behind him, the flame behind the glass.

There is a saying "The Trotskys make revolutions and the Bronsteins pay for them." Leon Trotsky's birth name was Lev Davidovich Bronstein. He spoke Yiddish and spent time in yeshiva. Who can say how differently history might have turned out had he not been kicked out ou Yeshiva?

Why did I jump more than two thousand years in explaining Hannukah? Do I have Attention Deficit Disorder?

I skip to the present era in my explanation of Hannukah because its lessons reverberate through time. It was made a Jewish holiday by our sages because its central themes recur in each individual life and in every generation. The modern day "Greeks" are not only Athenian. They can be a representative of any faith or force that urges Jews to abandon Judaism. Muslims, Christians and Hindus who urge Jews to adopt their faith are sowing the seeds of destruction for the Jew and for themselves. Karl Marx was baptized at the age of six. His Christian upbringing was only a stop on the path to the creation of the godless religion (Marxism) with the highest body count in the history of the world.

G-d did not make an eternal covenant with the Jewish people, change his mind and make a "new covenant.". G-d did not give the Torah to 600,000 witnesses in the open desert and then revoke it in the presence of thirteen men. The eternal G-d does not have Attention Deficit Disorder.

There is an Indian greeting "namaste" which translates as "I salute the divinity within you." This thought is constantly in my heart as I greet my gentile neighbours. It is this love of the nations of the world, descendants of Adam and Noah that motivates me to be forthright in rejecting their offer to share their faith with me.

A Christian friend mentioned to me only in the course of stressing another point that he went to the foot of a bridge overpass every Saturday morning to bring food to homeless families. I was humbled by his physical immersion in the tenets of loving kindness in contrast to my own meager exertions. He has never mentioned this labour of love again since he once mentioned it in the heat of an argument. It is to him and the millions like him that I say "namaste". May G-d grant him many more years in fullness of strength to continue in his path of kindness. May he dance at the weddings of his righteous children and grandchildren.

My friend is only one of millions. He may live in a north eastern city, but there are millions like him. Their deeds can be measured against our eternal Torah. Their deeds can and should be studied and emulated. But we must not abandon the Torah that is our compass in a world where direction is so easily lost.

America should be praised for its concept and implementation of religious and political freedom. For a believer, freedom is a tool to serve G-d. The first act of a believer is to trade his liberty for the yoke of Heaven. Anyone who does not understand this should reflect upon the right to work where one pleases. Most thinking individuals will trade this freedom as quickly as possible for a business or work opportunity.

We should always be thankful for the freedom that we have. But we must recognise it as a gift from God delivered by men. Every person born came to this world with a mission. We Jews have ours. Other nations have their mission as well. In the time of Moshiach, the mission of each nation will be revealed and we will be as harmonious as the limbs and organs of one healthy body.

The comparison between the Menorah and the human head has universal implications. The Jew and the gentile of course share this common characteristic of two ears, two eyes , two nostrils and a mouth. Physical creation is replete with clues to the path of divine service.

It is out of love of the nations as much due to my love of Judaism and the Jewish people that I reject Christian scriptures and holidays and offer instead the universal lessons of Hannukah.

My Christian friend who feeds the homeless is an example to me, as are the many Christians like him. It is only fair that I identify him by the faith in which he so deeply believes. To use a metaphor, he wants the scoreboard for his team to light up when he scores a basket. I feel the same way about my team.

The nature of this world is one of concealment. G-d could end all of our religious disagreements by an unmistakable revelation that would open all eyes. It is not the will of G-d yet that every letter of divine truth be as self evident as the laws of gravity. For want of such revelation, we must respect G-d's will and respect each other's differences. To my Christian friends I say" Happy Hannukah". You may return my greeting as you please. G-d bless America. G-d bless us all. Sphere: Related Content

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