Chanukah 5782

erev Chanukah – 1st night

“Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the L-RD of hosts.”

– Zechariah 4:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

The miracle of the oil that lasted eight days, giving light to the Menorah inside of the Temple, not the military victory of the Maccabees (a small group of pious Jewish fighters) over the Syrians is emphasized, as per the ruling of the Sages. We celebrate Chanukah in recognition of G-d’s Spirit enabling us to defeat our enemies, not by our own strength or strategical prowess in battle.

Likewise, in recognition of G-d’s hand in our lives, we may bravely face the day, with Him on our side; yet, at the same time, humbling ourselves before Him, inclusive of accepting His plans for us, replete with an acknowledgment of His guidance. He will not lead us astray; rather, he will lead us into victory time and time again. May we be able to conquer our inner battles, with a little help from Above.

Each day of the eight days of Chanukah, a candle is lit, successively, so that on the first day – one candle is lit, then two candles on the eve of the second day, and so on. Yet, if you look at a menorah designed for Chanukah, there are nine candle holders. (Unless the menorah uses oil with tiny wicks, then there are nine repositories for the oil). The reason for a total of nine is to have a place, usually in the center of the menorah, for the shamash (servant) candle, that is used to light all of the other candles. This candle is lit first; then, it shares its light with the other candles.

The tradition is reminiscent of the pasuk (verse), “In Thy light do we see light” (Psalm 36:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). G-d is the source of life, that bestows light upon us; we are connected, ever dependent upon Him for every breath we take. “For Thou dost light my lamp; the L-RD my G-d doth lighten my darkness” (Psalm 18:29, JPS). At the darkest time of the year, may we hope to be enlightened by the L-RD, through the bestowing of His emes (truth), and chesed (mercy), two key components of Chanukah; for His truth led us in the darkness against our enemies; and, through His mercy, we were spared from capitulation to the ungodly agenda of the oppositional influences, that attempted to erase our belief and practice.

Wisdom of the Ages

shiur for parashas Toldos 5782

“Isaac dug anew the wells which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham and which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham’s death; and he gave them the same names that his father had given them.” – Genesis 26:18, JPS 1985 Tanach

The passing on of traditions from generation to generation, ad infinitum, until Malchus Elokim (the Kingdom of G-d), takes a precedent in our lives, beyond compare, ushering in the Messianic Age. These are the wells of wisdom re-dug, figuratively speaking, in every generation, from where the living waters may be drawn every day, as a fresh supply of life-sustaining spiritual truths.

Each pious individual of the succeeding generations will – H’Shem willing – make an effort like Isaac “to return and dig to the aspect of ‘a well of living water’ through many types of intelligences and great and concealed counsels” (Me’or Einayim, sefaria.org). Thus, Isaac, who re-dug his father Abraham’s wells, that had been stopped up by the Philistines, serves as an example, on a symbolic level for us.

Tradition & Remembrance

Halloween, traditionally known as All Hallow’s Eve was originally a solemn vigil that preceded All Hallow’s Day (All Saints Day) on November 1st. Although, apparently, there were pagan origins to the day itself, before the Church’s innovation, for Western civilization in Europe, the day connoted respect for the dead, within a traditional Christian framework. Therefore, having superseded the pagan origins, the intent was to prepare for the remembrance of the saints the next day, as well as all of the departed souls, remembered on All Soul’s Day (November 2nd). It was believed that prayers could be offered on behalf of the dead who were in purgatory, that they might eventually be freed in order to make their ascent to Heaven.

In the Jewish tradition, we have nothing of the sort on this day that is reckoned according to the Gregorian calendar. Rather, we have Yizkor, and other traditions to commemorate our loved ones who have passed away. Yet, there are some striking similarities, if I dare to mention some of them. When we say the kaddish prayer, in particular, this is a prayer that specifically praises G-d, and does not mention death at all. Because the dead can no longer perform mitzvoth (good deeds), we say prayers on their behalf, so to speak, to bring them closer to G-d; thus, I believe that even if they are in Gehenna, their souls may benefit for the good. When lighting a yahrzeit (memorial) candle, on the anniversary of the death of a loved one, a traditional prayer requests an aliyah (ascent) for the soul of the one who has passed away. Respect for the dead is of the utmost importance in Judaism.

Seeking Meaning

“And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah.” – Genesis 23:1, The Complete Jewish Tanach

Commentary notes that there is a specific reason that the word “years” appears after each component number of the total number of years of her life. Inasmuch as each time frame of her life is to be understood in a certain manner, the following rendering is given: her childhood, young adulthood, and adulthood were all equally good (based on Rashi). Imagine an equanimity of identity, intention, and purpose spanning the entirety of a life – this was the life of Sarah.

This may be contrasted with the lives of many people in modernity. Common language, currently describes different formative years in a negative way, for example, the terrible twos, the rebellious adolescence, and the burdensome task of “finding oneself” given to the young adult. Also, consider the pressure of higher-level education, and earlier, placing the burden of choosing an area of interest upon the student, before he or she may be ready to decide upon a profession. In like manner that so many teenagers and young adults change their image, interests, and friendships; college-bound students and university freshman change their majors.

And what of the often turbulent years of the teenager, as well as the young adult, especially if one’s formative years were actually not so formative? “Train a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, JPS 1917 Tanach). There is a continuum, expressed by Erikson, between “identity cohesion and role confusion,” especially during adolescence; yet, a cohesive identity may be formed as the result of parental instruction and role modeling. Additionally, each child may be brought up in accordance with his or her own personality, and learning style. This is not a task that can simply be relegated to the teachers where the child attends school.

Unless an individual embarks upon a steady path, replete with a moral component, then how can one navigate the vicissitudes of life? Too often, the formula of permitting the youth to experience life for themselves, without providing any clear guideposts, is the one taken by parents who have been influenced by the permissiveness of societal norms. Yet, there is still something to say for those throughout the world who are brought up within a more traditional framework. This would include those within cultures that embrace traditional morality, as well as those that uphold religious values.

The monotheism embraced by both Abraham and Sarah served as a rallying cry for their newfound beliefs, whereof each was committed to a high degree of sanctity in their lives, despite the idolatry and diminished moral sphere of the surrounding peoples of that time. Eventually, the three Abrahamic faiths influenced the world in a manner, whereby many people were called to a higher standard.

Comparatively speaking, as the standard of the world seems to decline in more recent times, it is even more important to plan a trajectory for our own lives, those of our children, and the future of society, even in the midst of societal breakdowns. We need a return to an unadulterated life of stability, purposeful intent, and commitment; instead of the rampant nihilism, experimenting, and seeking of entertainment, so common in modern society. May the pure, devoted, and moral life of Sarah serve as an example for us to seek meaning and the utmost good for our lives.

“Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

– Proverbs 29:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

erev Shabbos reflection: Vayeira 5782

The slowing down of time, only possible when all of my chores are behind me. I am reminded of the scene in the Fidler on the Roof movie, where everyone is preparing for Shabbos: laundry to finish, milk and challah to be delivered, and changing into one’s finery to greet the Sabbath Queen. For myself, I have my blogposts, podcasts, and videos that need to be wrapped up, in addition to food preparation, and sabbath greetings via the Internet.

I rarely go out erev Shabbos Friday evening, because I prefer a quiet, more traditional, welcoming of the sacred seventh day, via the necessary kavanah (mental preparation), that will make the entirety of the twenty-five hour day more meaningful. So, I generally do not attend community Shabbat dinners at the synagogue, nor accept invitations to homes, where there will be more than a half dozen people at the table. Introvert that I am, this permits me to transition into the Day of Rest, in a manner that is potentially full of reverence and kedushah (holiness).

erev Shabbos reflection: Misplaced L’Chayim

As Shabbos approaches, I am fretting. It’s still within the grace period, before lighting the candles; so, it’s not like I’m committing a terrible aveirah (sin) by writing these words for a potential blogpost. It is such in life that hindsight is golden, and upon discerning the nature of a festive meal outside, underneath a sukkah, for lunch on the Second Day of Sukkot (Wednesday), I am concerned that I went above and beyond what I should have permitted for myself, in disregard of many Covid safety protocols that I had established for myself.

And, now, a simple stye in the eye is causing me to wonder whether this is the result of contracting the dreaded coronavirus. It would serve me right, if that were the case; because even my Yiddishkeit standards faltered at the table, for example, when I took part in a l’chayim, for no particular reason. That is not the way of a sincere chassidishe l’chayim. Guilt, regret, and mild worry, are some of the negative feelings that I now harbor as sunset approaches. L’chayim, indeed.

This kind of joy is not worth the trouble that it will bring, as is referred to in psalms, that only uz (then), that is when Israel is fully out of galus, should joy be overflowing (see Psalm 126). Therefore, a vain l’chayim, will only bring empty joy. For those wondering what I am talking about, drinking a l’chayim (a bisel of schnapps) should only be in respect to giving a brief dvar on Torah, for the aliyah of a departed soul, a healing (go figure on this one), or a simcha (good news). Not, simply drinking a l’chayim in order to drink a l’chayim. Shabbat shalom.

shabbos reflections: Tradition

As Shabbos approaches, I have already said, “amein” after my mother lit candles, on Zoom according to halachic time on the East Coast. After welcoming Shabbat, I recited kiddush, we partook of motzei and ate our meals quietly, as if two thousand miles were condensed into two feet across the table. Now, back in my own time zone, so to speak, I am making the most of three hours until Shabbos begins. This would not have been possible, without the many circumstances that led to this new tradition. The Coronavirus is not without its blessings; although, I would not intend to diminish the overall tragic consequences for many people that have occurred in its wake.

Yet, for myself, I carry on, introvert that I am. For, my self-imposed shelter in place policy 24-7 provided much time for reflection. And, a prolific abundance of writings that I have mostly posted on my blogs. Overall, there is no way to measure these times, except within the framework of the big picture. As incident rates of Covid-19 decrease, we will not necessarily be entering the “new normal,” unless our minds are complacent. Rather we are already entering what is more akin to a brave new world, promoted by the technocracy, i.e., the means to manage the infrastructure, ideology, and economic system of the future. This will not lead to an utopia, rather, a dystopia; therefore, I will continue to cling to G-d, Torah, and acts of kindness, instead of the “new normal.”