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Congregation Beth HaTephila

An Engaging, Inclusive, Reform Congregation in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Between You and Me - December 2021

Chanukah is full of ambiguities.  Let’s start with how it’s spelled!  Not only that, if the original intent of the Maccabees’ celebration was to make up for a missed Sukkot, why do we observe an altogether different holiday today?  Who is the hero of Chanukah, the Maccabees who beat their oppressors, or God, who wrought the miracle of the oil?  And what is the moral of the Chanukah holiday, that we should rely on our own initiative to redeem broken selves and world or are we to wait with faith for God’s plan to unfold? 

The Hasmoneans led a movement against the Hellenistic forces of assimilation and gained independence for Israel for several generations.  Later, under the Roman occupation of Israel, the rabbis saw the Maccabees’ rebellion against their occupiers might lead people in their day to do the same, a path they believed might lead to our destruction. So, they amended the story and celebration of Chanukah, and told their students it was God’s hand guiding the Maccabees’ victory, as symbolized in the miracle of the oil.  Only through Divine Will was Jewish sovereignty restored.  And to further drive in the point, the rabbis instituted the reading of Zechariah on Shabbat Chanukah, whose message is, “Not by might, and not by power, but by My spirit, says the Eternal God.”  They might as well have said, “Not by your might and not by your power, but by the grace of God will we go.”  And for centuries, Jews fought persecution and after persecution relied on a deep sense of spiritual resistance, namely, God’s promise of a future redemption.

Fast forward to the 20th century Enlightenment period.  Advances in science and technology led some to believe that the time of redemption was approaching.  But it wasn’t located in the divine realm.  Instead, people were curing diseases.  Technology was making the impossible possible and no one saw a limit to the abilities of humankind to bring about peace and harmony for the world.  Indeed, in the Reform movement, this fervor took on religious significance.  God implanted within us the ability and the command to redeem this world.  And the pursuit of knowledge (and the shedding of superstition and irrational practice) would march us right into the Messianic moment.  But it didn’t.  The march of Enlightenment progress also led to Fascism and Communism, and movements within all educational disciplines that were anything but redemptive and destroyed countless human lives. 

This is the world you and I inhabit, the Post-Modern age.  Hopefully, we recognize the limits of humanity.  There is evil within each one of us as there is good.  We are not certain any one viewpoint can capture objective reality.  So, we are humbled by our ignorance and oftentimes reticent to claim truths.  Is this progress?  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that it has opened within us again the possibility of the divine and transcendent.  We may not be able to bring about world peace alone. 

And this is what I think about when I light the Chanukah candles.  Without us lighting there is no light.  We cannot give up the mandate to do all that is within our power to work for a better world.  We know better than to sit on our hands and wait for some kind of miracle.  And we can also draw strength and warmth from the possibility of the Light of God’s presence inspiring and lifting us to that lofty goal. 

Happy Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hanukah, Hannukah, (and the 16 other spellings)

Sun, October 2 2022 7 Tishrei 5783