THE LIGHTS FANTASTIC
Dr. Ed Fineberg
In the concept of Jewish festivals, with each recurring season, we have the opportunity to tune ourselves into the special harmony which relates to each particular period.
In the concept of Jewish festivals, with each recurring season, we have the opportunity to tune ourselves into the special harmony which relates to each particular period. Even as earthbound human beings, we can sense the quality of renewal and redemption in the warming spring air of the month of Nissan, and the urgency of making personal amends in the waning days of summer during the month of Elul. As the daylight time shortens, the air cools further, the ripened seeds drop and begin to disintegrate in the newly dampened earth. The season of Chanukah, the time for rededication, is approaching.
Through pre-Hellenistic history, we have hints pointing to the 25th of the month of Kislev (the start of Chanukah) as a turning point: On this day, the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert was completed, the altar was consecrated, the deadline for bringing bikurim (first fruits) was reached, and the foundation of the Second Temple by returnees from the Babylonian exile was dedicated. The Greek tyrants were unaware of the power of the Jewish mission and potential for Jewish renewal. How could they understand the secret of the significance of Chashmona, the name of the 25th "rest stop" of the Children of Israel during their wanderings through the desert with Moses? They tried and almost succeeded in extinguishing the flame of the Jewish spirit by forbidding Torah learning and practice; they contaminated the Temple and the oil used for the Menorah was polluted by pagan use.
On the 25th of the month of Kislev, this year, as for the past two millennia, we celebrate the victory of a band of a few single-minded Maccabees against the overwhelming odds of the Greek superpower. The sages remind us that the Hebrew word Chanukah means, "they rested on the 25th." We can marvel at the Maccabees' zeal in restoring the altar and rededicating the Temple for its sacred purpose. They could have considered employing a halachic loophole to rekindle the Menorah with the easily available defiled oil. However, these descendents of Aaron, the first Kohen (priest), fulfilling an ancient prophecy, insisted on rededicating the Temple and its Menorah with only the ideal oil. A one day supply of pure oil was discovered, and when used for kindling the Menorah, burned miraculously for eight days. The flame from this purest of oil reminds us of the great potential we each can achieve, and the Divine assistance we each can enjoy when we search for, and insist on, the best within each of us. In each Jewish heart and in each Jewish home, G-d has implanted an inextinguishable spark which can be brightened to offset negative forces of defeatism, as well as heightened to extend the joy of true Jewish pride.
On the 25th of Kislev, as we gaze at the sanctified Chanukah lights, we can contemplate the fact that the 25th word in the Torah is "ohr - light." We can meditate on the strength of our Torah and the miracle of Jewish survival against all odds.
Dr. Ed Fineberg, who hails from Atlanta, writes from his home in Netanya, Israel.
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