Monday, December 6, 2010

Taking Chanukah Personally [Video]


There are several days, as well as a 3 week stretch on the Jewish calendar when we mourn the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, as well as pray for its eventual reconstruction. Most such observances also note the role played not only by idolatry in the destruction of the first Bet HaMikdash but the role of hatred within our community as well in the destruction of the second temple..

What is notable about Chanukah in contrast to the 9th of Av and the upcoming fast day of the 10th of Teves is that the Chanukah story starts when the Bet HaMikdash is still standing. When we go to Jerusalem today, the Temple Mount where our Holy Temple stood is occupied  by a mosque. The remnant to which Jews flock in prayer is the Western Wall.

By contrast, the sad backdrop of the Chanukah story is a Temple that had not been destroyed but had been occupied by the Greeks and filled with idols and idolatrous observance. Even though the Temple stood, its space was forcibly dedicated to idolatry, to ideas that were the antithesis of Judaism. The holiday revolves around a revolt which led to the purification and rededication of the Bet Hamikdash to its original objective.

In our own lives, how many times do personal, business and communal relationships get "off track"? How often do we find that acts of faith become hollow and perfunctory, and that estrangement creeps into marital and familial relationships? How often are we "married on paper", "on the payroll" and "sitting at the PTA" with an inner aloofness?

The good news is, we are still married, our kids still speak to us, and we're still employed. But something is missing. The freshness of love, the belief in an objective, the sense of connectedness are sometimes replaced with a lack of direction and misdirection.

Chanukah to me symbolises the awareness that we still have love that remains,  the glow beneath the ashes, and  a mission of which we remain aware and to which we can return. The social structures that remain in our lives can be purified, repaired and rededicated.

Everyone has a conceptual manner in which they connect to Hanukah. I know some people, children of a Jewish father and a non Jewish mother who returned to Judaism and restored the Jewishness to a family name that had become no longer Jewish. Others restored through education an understanding of Passsover, Rosh HaShanah and Chanukah itself. as well as Shabbos, which of course comes around every week.

At least as important as religious observances are our human relationships. Bringing back love and enthusiasm, loyalty and caring to marriage, family and friendship is also an idea of rededication. Rediscovering a dedication to work also involves a network of human relationships, and a multitude of opportunities to make people's lives better.

I know a plumber who goes home from unstopping a toilet or installing a stove happy in the knowledge that he has lightened the burden of his customers. I have gone to salesmen who are happy to sell a piece of electronics that is exactly what the customer needs. In my personal life, a good librarian or book seller is almost on the level of clergy. There is something reassuring in knowing that the things we get paid by the hour to do are things that touch people's lives after the job is done.

Chanukah for me is the time that I think of relationships that have drifted onto "automatic pilot" and the fact that the commitment is there, the love and idealism ready to be reinvigorated. The holiday speaks not only of miracles, of help from Above but of seizing the day, of standing up and fighting. It is a reminder that we are not passive spectators waiting only for miracles, but that we are given a role to usher in the miraculous as well.

Jewish holidays have their historical aspect. But there is also a level in which they recur in each generation. The rededication of the Holy Temple that took place is not buried in the past. It is a theme that can and should be brought back to life today.

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