We have entered the Hanukkah holiday with a flurry of community candle lightening’s and latka making’s. This weekend (mid-holiday) promises to be the pinnacle of community celebration and learning. Many people gave me feedback around the High Holidays that they wanted to hear more guest lecturers. Well for those of you who offered that feedback, consider yourselves heard.
This weekend you will hear one of the best presenters the Jewish Theological Seminary has to offer. Dr. Benjamin Sommer, A professor of Bible and also a man of deep faith and committed practice, is coming to be with us Friday night and Shabbat Day. His main topic is:
Then & Now: Holiness, Messiah & Afterlife
But throughout all of his sessions he will be weaving in lessons from Hanukkah and what it means for a synagogue, after 90 years in this community, to rededicate itself to its values thus ensuring another 90 years to come.
Sunday promises to be the climatic culmination of a great community weekend with food, dancing, and Israel experiences for the whole community. Travel to Israel and see our kids experience the country in dynamic ways.
My favorite Hanukkah text is Hanerot Halalu, the paragraph chanted while lightening the candles between saying the blessings and singing Ma Otzur.
https://rsa.fau.edu/album/38407 (recording number 2, Hanerot Halalu begins at 1:55)
Berachot Al Hanerot - Hanerot Halalu - Maoz Tzur
Composer(s) : Traditional - Lyrics: from the Sidur; Arr. Richard Friedman
The voice is my music teacher Hayim Parchi from my Schechter days back in the early 90’s.
Hanerot halalu, anu madlikin
Al hanisim ve'al hanifla'ot
Ve'al hateshu'ot, ve'al hamilchamot
Bayamim haheim bazman hazeh
Al yedei kohanecha hak'doshim.
V'chol sh'monat yemei Chanukah (x2)
Hanerot halalu, hanerot halalu kodesh heim.
Ve'ein lanu reshut lehishtameish bahem
Ela lir'otam bilvad
Kedei lohodot ulehalleil leshimcha hagadol
Al nissehcha ve'al yeshuatehcha
These Chanukah lights we kindle
In honor of the miracles, the wonders
And salvation wrought and wars
You fought, for our fathers,
In days of yore and in present time (x2)
By the hands of Your holy priests.
And throughout Chanukah's eight days
These lights, these lights shall be sacred:
No right to make use of them have we
Only to look at them and see,
That Your great Name we may thank and praise
For the miracles and salvation You brought
And for Your wondrous deeds.
I feel deeply moved by the way this text weaves together instructions about how to light the candles with the intentions of the heart that one should hold while actually lightening the candles. The Shulchan Aruch (the 15th century unifying code of Jewish law) tells us that we should diligently attend to the lightening of the candles, and then proceeds to lay out all the stipulations of where to light (by the window), and how to light (putting them right to left and lightening left to right), and how many to light (there is a custom of one Hanukiyah per member of the house). As a student of mine once said, “If you are going to care you should care all the way,” and this is true for continuity and tradition, but let us not forget the importance of what this holiday means for the heart and soul of the Jewish people. The holiday celebrates freedom, religious faith, community, and hope, but it also raises tensions around the same ideas. In our lives today, our experiences are darkened by these tensions, but on Hanukkah we are instructed to see these tensions not as a curse, but as a blessing. We as Jews are commanded to wrestle, we are commanded to always be navigating the secular world with our religious worldview. This can be a powerful meditative process for the individual but it does not have to be done alone. Come celebrate with us this weekend and engage with these tensions for the sake of spiritual growth and transcendence….
And who knows? Perhaps our efforts this weekend will show us that holiness is all around us and the days of the Messiah (the one to be heralded by the prophet Elijah) are closer than we think.
Chag Hannukah Sameach
Rabbi Daniel Victor