Published Date: December 04, 2018
The following remarks were presented by Root Source teacher Rabbi Elan Adler at the Knesset Bible Study session December 4, 2018/Kislev 26, 5779. Rabbi Elan teaches Chapters of the Fathers on Root Source.
Chanukah Candles (Photo: Wikicommons)
I would like to express my deep appreciation to Yehuda Glick and Tuly Weisz and Donna Jollay for this opportunity to share some brief thoughts today. I’d like to welcome Pastor Trey Graham whose church my wife Rivkah and I and others visited a few weeks ago in Melissa, Texas.
The state of Israel is first and foremost a Jewish state, the only one in the world. It is not a religious state, and there are passionate debates about how religious or traditional this country should be. Asked to speak about Chanukah and its possible influence on Government and Public Policy, I thought of three areas to highlight.
One is the importance of people earnestly hearing each other. You may have heard of the man who attended a large tent meeting with a faith healer, and after seeing one person after the other leaving the stage satisfied, he took courage and went up and said to the healer, “please help me with my hearing.” The healer put a finger in each of the man’s ears, chanted and shouted and prayed, and removed his fingers and asked the man, “So, did that help?” The man replied, “I don’t know yet. My hearing is next Monday.”
Judah the Maccabee, arguably a hero of the Chanukah story, when confronted with horrible edicts against the Jewish people and knowing there needed to be a pushback against the Syrian Greeks, Judah Maccabee stood resolute and shouted words that every Jewish child remembers hearing in their schools: Mi Lashem Elai! Whoever stands with God, come to me. Whoever has the spirit to not give in to the terror of our oppressive regime, whoever wishes to galvanize the forces of good against this tyrannical evil government, come to me and with God’s help we will defeat the enemy. The people heard, and banded together, and created a victory of the few against the many, such is the power of listening and being heard. It begins with families hearing each other and extends to the Knesset and far beyond. SHEMA – listen, hear, respect.
Another Chanukah image that can influence government and public policy is the actual lighting of the Chanukah candles. The Talmud records a debate on how to light the candles, whether you light from 1 the first night to 8 the last night, or in reverse, light 8 the first night and 1 the last night. Our time-honored tradition is to light from 1 to 8, and it’s the normative custom. What gets lost in the discussion of how to light, is that originally one light per household each night was sufficient. Some have suggested that next to our lights going 1-8, we should have a nearby Chanukiah going from 8-1, with no blessing recited, but just to pay conscious attention to those in our society who have less and less- less mobility, less financial capability, less health, less memory, less family harmony, less family due to loss, etc. We tend to take various kinds of abundance for granted until we are confronted with increasing scarcity of all kinds. Lighting from 8-1 parallel to lighting 1-8 can sear in our minds how government and other institutions need to care for the decreasingly disadvantaged.
Lastly, here is the word in Hebrew for Greece: Yavan. Yavan is formed of 3 Hebrew letters, in increasing length.
The Greeks were successful in Hellenizing or secularizing a large portion of the Jewish population in Israel in the time period around Chanukah, 170’s BCE. Large swaths of Jews gave up their heritage and identity for the glitter of a Godless world. But it happened gradually, as indicated by these letters. First it was a small break away from tradition. Then, more was let go, and finally, all custom and tradition was discarded.
Much of Israeli Jewry defines itself as chiloni, meaning non religious and non observant. Their letting go of tradition could have been as gradual as the word Yavan, or maybe they never had tradition at all. But last week I saw a video of a man who said, he is chiloni, he is not religious, not traditional, not observant in any way. What he said next surprised me. He said, but even though, I still want my children to know the basics of Jewish life. To know the Shema, a Shabbat kiddush, what is the weekly Torah portion, what and when are the Jewish holidays, what is a kosher symbol on various foods….not let my people go, but let my children know. To stem the tide of Jewish people in Israel going the way of the letters of the word Yavan, our educational policies and goals should focus on teaching our children the how and what of Jewish practice. Rather than seeing these things as religious, they can see it as historical or cultural if they wish, but they should have them. Imagining our children as dark menorahs is a scary thought.
Thank you for listening, and hearing, remember the one candle of less and less, and may we live in a society where all of our children in the land of our ancestors have the tools to be Jewishly connected and engaged. A joyous Chanukah and holiday season to all.