Top Posts of 2010

Dec 31, 2010 at 12:53 PM


As the year 2010 draws to a close, we review the top posts of the year, the most controversial posts, and some other interesting stats:

Posts With The Most Views

1) Messianic Judaism and Coffee (347 pageviews)



4) Conversion in Early Judaism (209 pageviews)



Most Controversial Posts (Posts With the Most Comments)






HAPPY NEW YEAR!


Quote of the Day

Dec 29, 2010 at 3:43 PM

"Welcome to a generation where rabbis have been defanged and declawed. The days of the rabbi as a weighty moral conscience are behind us now. The rabbi as irritant has been replaced with rabbi as ego-massager … The rabbi is there for ceremony. We train him for five years to announce page numbers in synagogue and present your daughter with a leather-bound Bible for her bat mitzvah … Through our desire not to offend we rabbis have reduced ourselves to a caricature, the full vitality of our souls sandwiched into the extremely narrow bandwidth accorded to us by a community that calls on us primarily for lifecycle events.

I constantly hear myself being described as "controversial," as if that's an insult to a rabbi. Yes, I am a rabbi who is loved and hated. A preparedness to be unpopular is what I have learned from Judaism, not to mention the world's most influential figures … The most influential rabbis in the world today are those like Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who aren't afraid to take verbal jackhammers to anti-Semites, notwithstanding the discomfort it breeds among some less-vocal Jews … Rabbis must begin broadening their roles away from the ceremonial and toward the provocative. You're given a pulpit. Use it."

-Rabbi Shmuley Boteach from his recent article "The End of the Rabbi as Mr. Nice Guy."


Women Writing Torahs

Dec 27, 2010 at 2:20 PM


This afternoon Jewschool published an interesting blog-post on women sofrot (scribes) and the story of the first commissioned Torah scroll written completely by women.

Definitely worth reading (and viewing the embedded video)!

You can view the Jewschool post HERE.


Video of the Day

at 1:17 PM


-Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on Connecting with G-d


A Stranger in a Foreign Land

Dec 24, 2010 at 12:35 AM

Parashat Shemot

Shemot is the first Torah portion in the book of Exodus and contains the narrative of Moses’ early childhood, his flight to Midian, his encounter with the Divine, and his return to Egypt.

Early in the narrative, Moshe kills an Egyptian and flees to Midian. There he marries Tzippora, and becomes an attendant to the flocks of his influential father-in-law, Jethro. These years of exile in Midian give us a glimpse into the character of Moshe while he is still “a work in progress.” We see a vulnerable Moshe, lacking in confidence, unaware of his true potential, and clearly wrestling with his identity. Early in the parasha he is not yet the great leader of the Exodus from Egypt. This is most vividly portrayed in the birth of Moshe’s first-born son:

“Moshe was glad to stay with [Yitro], and he gave him his daughter Tzippora in marriage. She gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom, declaring: ‘I have been a foreigner in a foreign land’ (Exodus 2:21-22).”

It is interesting that Moshe does not say, “I am a Hebrew in a foreign land.” Nor does he say, “I am an Egyptian in a foreign land.” Instead he states clearly, “גר הייתי Ger hayyiti - I am a foreigner, a stranger, in a foreign land.”

This verse reveals an identity crisis within Moshe. Although he was raised within the palace of Egypt, he was chased out, and Pharaoh wanted to kill him. He was no longer a “Prince of Egypt.” Furthermore, Moshe did not yet identify with being a Hebrew, and was not recognized as being a Hebrew by his own people. For after attempting to break up a fight between two Hebrews, one of them lashed out against Moshe:

“Then he said, ‘Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ (Exodus 2:14)

Not only does Moshe not identify with being Hebrew or Egyptian; but neither do either of the two Hebrews fighting against each other. Their response was basically, “Who do you think you are?” No one, especially a slave, would talk to a Prince of Egypt that way. They would be killed! By this point, Moshe is no longer perceived as being Hebrew or Egyptian. Even Pharaoh wanted to kill him. So what did Moshe do? He ran away! (see Exodus 2:15b)

But God clearly had a plan for Moshe in Midian. God never abandoned him during those sixty years. Rather, He was preparing him for his ultimate purpose in life. True leadership is developed. And often we must work through our insecurities to build the confidence that is truly necessary. How much more so with us? Like with Moshe, there is a deeper beckoning within our souls. God often has to exile us from our places of comfort in order to reach us. After all, it was in the dessert Moshe had a life-changing encounter with HaShem. And it was in the dessert Moshe was called back to his people, and to his role in bringing redemption to Israel.


*This commentary first appeared in The Set Table: A Young Messianic Shabbat Table Guide. To subscribe, send a blank email to TheSetTable-subscribe@yahoogroups.com, or visit thesettable.org.


Kavana, Prayer, and Torah Faithfulness

Dec 22, 2010 at 11:56 AM

In Matthew 6:1-18, Yeshua emphasizes the importance of kavana, of proper intention, in observance of Torah commands. According to Yeshua, the intention of observing the mitzvot should not be so that others see you doing them, but rather out of obedience to HaShem.

When giving tzedaka, Yeshua states that one is to do so without drawing attention to one’s self, or to the amount. For when done so “your tzedaka will be a secret; and your Father, who sees what you do in secret, will reward you (vs. 4).

In the same way, Yeshua also states that when praying, you are not to pray in a way that draws attention to yourself. But rather, you are to go secretly into your “prayer closet.” For our communication is the primary link in our relationship with the Divine. For when we pray in secret, and do not attempt to win the admiration of others, our Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward us (vs. 6).

Yeshua also gives us some unique insight into prayer itself. That we should not worry about being eloquent, or wordy. But to pray simply, “for your Father knows what you need before you even ask him (vs. 8).” This idea that G-d is more pleased with the humble prayers of the righteous is paralleled in the Talmud:

“When you address the Holy One, blessed be He, let your words be few (b. Berachot 61a).”

The pattern Yeshua follows with (commonly known as “the Lord’s Prayer”) is actually the basic outline of several prayer formulas common within Jewish tradition. The beginning of the prayer, “Our Father in Heaven – Avinu She’BaShamayim,” is the opening of several liturgical prayers in Judaism. And the following line, “may your Name be kept holy” is echoed in the Kaddish – “yitgadal v’yitkadash, shmey raba - magnified and sanctified be your great name.”

What Yeshua does is give us a pattern for prayer. It is not a magic formula, or the only way to pray, but the basic format for acknowledging and communicating with G-d. What is additionally interesting is that this prayer of Yeshua incorporates and acknowledges patterns of prayer already existing within the Jewish world. Yeshua appropriates and further invigorates the words of tradition and gives them a fuller meaning and understanding.

Yeshua's common practice is to give Jewish tradition a deeper and fuller meaning. To correct misunderstandings and interpretations that miss the central tenet of justice, mercy and faith (Mt. 23:23). In our observance of the mitzvot, may we take heed the words of Yeshua, and live out Torah with the holiest of intentions, and do the mitzvot to honor G-d, rather than the approval or admiration of others.


Quote of the Day

Dec 21, 2010 at 9:33 AM

"In the past, Jews were forced to be Jews or to break away completely. Nowadays, every Jew is a Jew by choice. All of us have autonomy as to how we want to be Jews. Since being a Jew means being part of an organic being, there have to be all kinds of Jews: We need the religious, who are the backbone, and the atheists, who keep us from having faith in foolish things, and the whole spectrum in between. What do we bring into the world? Davening. The word davening comes from the Latin word divinum: to do the divine thing. Some people daven by praying, others by feeding homeless people and in these different ways, we become the instruments of God. God told Abraham, “Those people who will bless you, I will bless.” The planet is underblessed today, and our task as Jews is to keep blessing things."

-Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (from a recent article in Moment Magazine)


Revealing Mashiach

Dec 17, 2010 at 10:10 AM

Parashat Vayechi

It can be said that everything written in the Torah concerns Mashiach. As such, how does this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, reveal Mashiach?

Continuing on the themes from last week's discussion, this week’s Torah portion reveals Mashiach in two primary ways – through our final glimpse of the life of Yosef, who the rabbis identify as a ‘type’ of Messiah (i.e. Mashiach ben Yosef – b. Sukkah 52b), and by tracing the lineage of Messiah through the tribe of Judah.

Yosef personifies Mashiach as one who was despised by his brothers, rejected, and left for dead. Yet despite his trials, was elevated to a position of authority and became the savior of a generation. When reconciled to his brothers, Yosef revealed himself to them, and in this week’s parasha states, “You meant to do me harm, but God meant it for good – so that it would come about, as it is today, with many people’s lives being saved (Gen. 50:20).”

Although Mashiach was despised by some around him, and treated with contempt and left for dead, his elevation through his resurrection has brought many people into ultimate redemption. And one day, Yeshua will reveal himself in all his glory to his people, and proclaim himself Mashiach.

The lineage of Mashiach

This week’s parasha also reveals Mashiach by tracing the Messianic lineage through the tribe of Judah:

"The scepter shall not pass from Yehudah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom obedience belongs; and it is he whom the peoples will obey (Gen. 49:10)."

The text can also be translated as “until Shiloh comes…” The term Shiloh has been understood within Jewish tradition as referring to Messiah. The Aramaic Targum Onkelos, followed by the famous commentator Rashi, render the text as “until the Messiah comes, to whom the kingdom belongs.” Likewise, another Aramaic Targum, Pseudo-Jonathan, paraphrases the verse as “until the time that King Messiah shall come.

The Talmud also confirms that the term Shiloh refers to Mashiach:

"Rabbi Yochanan taught that the entire world was created for the sake of the Messiah. What is His name? The school of Shiloh taught that His name is Shiloh, as it is written, ‘Until Shiloh comes and it is He whom all the peoples will obey (b. Sanhedrin 98b)."

Yalkut Shemoni, a medieval anthology, on this verse states:

"He [the Messiah] is called by the name of Shiloh because all the nations are destined to bring gifts to Israel and to King Messiah, as it is written, ‘In that day shall the present be brought to the Lord of Hosts (Yalkut Shemoni 160).’"

The book of Hebrews reiterates, “Everyone knows that our Lord arose out of Yehudah … (Heb. 7:14).” We have the assurance that our hope in Messiah is based on solid understanding, embedded within a Jewish context. Our Messiah, who descended through Judah, will reveal himself once again, as Yosef did to his brothers, and declare himself Mashiach. And it is through him, that we all have assurance of ultimate redemption!


A Reason for the Season

Dec 15, 2010 at 8:14 AM

It is not too often that as a rabbi, I get asked to give a Christmas message. A good friend of mine, who is a young pastor from Rwanda, leads a church here in the DC area and asked if I would be the guest speaker for a special Christmas celebration his church was sponsoring. So ... last Saturday night I spoke to a gathering of mostly pastors from around the world on the Christmas story, but with a little Jewish twist.

Most people have a simplistic understanding of this joyous season. Although this is not bad, there is so much symbolism that is hidden and to truly appreciate the holiday message, one needs to delve a little deeper …

To appreciate the fullness of Christmas one must take a few steps backward in time … back through Hanukkah … and even further into Israel’s history. Because the connections are greater than you may suppose. After all, Jesus was Jewish … born to Jewish parents … and as the Jewish Messiah, his life and identity is forever entangled with the Jewish people.

Drawing from the Luke narrative in the Gospels, last week's Torah portion, and the Hanukkah story, I basically gave a d'rash on the concept of hipuch (הפוך) - which literally means to turn upside-down. This is actually one of the major themes that runs throughout the biblical text. We repeatedly see how G-d takes a situation and unexpectedly turns it on its head.

Joseph

For example, in the last few weeks the Torah portions have centered on the life of Joseph. This young lad was despised by his brothers, rejected, and sold into slavery in Egypt. Despite his innocence, he was accused of rape and thrown in prison. And even in prison things were not going so well.

And then ... all of a sudden, hipuch! G-d turned the situation on its head. The downtrodden, least likely character (from a human perspective) is placed into a position of authority over all Egypt and ends up becoming the redeemer of not only the Jewish people, but the entire generation.

Hanukkah

In the Hanukkah story, the small outnumbered rag-tag army of Jewish farmers and townsmen, led by the Maccabees defeated the well-trained and equipped army of the Syrian-Greeks. Apart from a miracle, they should not have been able to defeat their foes and recapture Jerusalem and re-cleanse the Temple. But it was another act of hipuch. HaShem took the least likely scenario, and flipped it around.

The Incarnation

Finally, we turn to the incarnation of Messiah. A powerful story of the indwelling of G-d in a physical form. Christmas is essentially about the revelation of a Jewish Messiah to the world.

The message is not so much about the birth of a baby, as much as it is about the incarnation of G-d in the earth (Immanuel). It is the establishment of Messiah as the redeemer of not only the Jewish people, but of all humanity. The story is also a continuation of a common theme that appears throughout the Bible – hipuch – of G-d turning things upside-down, the opposite of what you would expect.

The reality is that a helpless baby was born in an animal trough. His parents were unable to be welcomed anywhere, and the only place they could find for shelter was some type of cave or covering for animals. Miriam had to give birth in a dank and dusty environment, surrounded by animal dung, rotting food, and the smell of livestock.

Furthermore, it was probably better that he was born in Bethlehem and not Nazareth, because back home, he was the center of a perceived local scandal. His mother became pregnant out of wedlock, Joseph himself did not even believe her at first. Just imagine – “Yea right! You were impregnated by the Ruach HaKodesh!” So he made plans to break-off the engagement. It was only an angelic visitation that convinced him to do otherwise (see Matthew 1:19-20). Why do you think Miriam spent the first three months of pregnancy with her relative Elizabeth (who experienced her own hipuch miracle)? In a small town, word gets around - whether it's true or not.

Yeshua was born amidst a scandal and was not recognized by many of his own people. Yet, it is this figure, born in the middle of 'nowhere Judea' (an occupied territory of the great Roman Empire) who ends up becoming the redeemer of all humanity! He was the least likely candidate from an earthly perspective. Yet, Yeshua was the physical manifestation of G-d in the Earth. There is no greater hipuch! For this idea continues to baffle many great minds to this very day.

How can the least likely scenario become the reality? G-d has a way of taking our lives and turning them upside-down in unexpected ways - empowering the powerless, healing the broken, helping the helpless, loving the unloved. This idea of hipuch is actually one of the great cardinal lessons of the story.

At least … that’s the way a rabbi would explain it. ((wink))


Revealing Something Deeper

Dec 10, 2010 at 12:26 PM

Parashat Vayigash

Redemption, divine mediation, and messianic hope. These are just a few of the themes gleaned from this week’s Torah portion. However, there are two particularly profound incidents that are worth exploring in greater depth - the emotional telling of Judah’s willingness to substitute himself for his brother, and of Joseph’s later revelation of himself to his brothers.

The rabbis teach us that everything in the Torah reveals Mashiach. This week’s parasha reveals Mashiach in two primary ways: through the life of Yosef, who the rabbis identify as a ‘type’ of Messiah (i.e. Mashiach ben Yosef – b. Sukkah 52b) and through the actions of Judah (through whom we later learn that the lineage of Messiah is passed through his tribe –see Gen. 49:10).

Yosef personifies Mashiach as one who was despised by his brothers, rejected, and left for dead. Yet despite his trials, was elevated to a position of authority and became the savior of a generation. In revealing himself to his brothers, Joseph states in this week’s parasha:

“Don’t be sad that you sold me into slavery here or angry at yourselves, because it was G-d who sent me ahead of you to preserve life (Gen. 45:5).”

Like Joseph, Mashiach was also despised by those around him, treated with contempt and left for dead. Yet, his elevation through his resurrection has also brought many people into ultimate redemption. And one day, Yeshua will reveal himself in all his glory to his people, and proclaim himself Mashiach.

This week’s parasha also reveals Mashiach through the substitutionary actions of Judah. In our portion, Judah pleads with Joseph to take himself prisoner instead of Benjamin. It was originally Judah who sold Joseph into slavery. As such, Judah’s sincere willingness to give up his life for his brother Benjamin’s proved his change of heart and caused Joseph to no longer be able to hide who he truly was. Because of Judah’s sincere willingness to be a substitute for his brother, we learn that he merited inclusion in the lineage of Messiah.

The book of Hebrews reiterates, “Everyone knows that our Lord arose out of Judah … (Heb. 7:14).” We have the assurance that our hope in Messiah is based on solid understanding, embedded within a Jewish context.

Our Messiah, who descended through Judah, will reveal himself once again, as Joseph did to his brothers, and declare himself Mashiach. And it is through him that we all have assurance of our ultimate redemption!



Tikkun Olam and Messianic Jews

at 8:49 AM

*In honor of Human Rights Day (and Human Rights Shabbat, tomorrow) we are reposting this recent article.

Synagogue attendance and ritual observance have become less popular features of Jewish society. Interestingly, 21st century Jewry is rallying around a new center: the practice and pursuit of tikkun olam.

I propose that we should pursue tikkun olam actively and tangibly through our Messianic congregations and communal institutions, and that doing so forms a stronger link to our people. The practice and pursuit of tikkun olam is a large source of Jewish identity and strikes at the heart of Jewish communal values. In summary, the pursuit of tikkun olam is (or should be) the defining characteristic of a community tasked with ushering in the person and the age of Mashiach.

Tikkun and Jewish Identity

Tikkun Olam is a large source of Jewish identity. Sixty years after the Holocaust, and in the face of genocide continuing unabated a few hundred miles from Israel’s borders, American Jews are more socially active than ever before. On the front lawns of most major Reform synagogues sit green plastic savedarfur.org banners. Several of America’s wealthiest Jewish philanthropists and charitable foundations spend significant sums each year supporting social action, advocacy, and humanitarian intervention on behalf of marginalized groups.
  • In 1988, 59% of respondents to an LA Times poll stated that a commitment to social justice “was what was most essential to Jewish identity” (only 17% said religious observance).
  • Fourteen years later, 58% of one thousand Jewish college students surveyed said that “making the world a better place” was an important way to be Jewish (only 22% said “observing halacha” and 17% said “attending synagogue”).
Clearly, tikkun olam is important to modern Jews. One of the many reasons that Messianic Jews remain on the fringes of Jewish society is that our movement is conspicuously absent from Jewish efforts to correct profound injustice and defend marginalized groups. As Rabbi Jason Sobel noted in a paper presented at the 2007 Borough Park Symposium, “if we want to be attractive, relevant, and engaging to younger Jewish people and develop a better reputation and testimony in the wider Jewish world, we must find ways to participate in social action."

Tikkun and Jewish Values

It is not enough that tikkun olam is popular. The second reason that Messianic congregations should more actively engage in tikkun olam is that its pursuit strikes at the heart of Jewish communal values. Rachel Wolf recently suggested that greater numbers of Jewish individuals have not adopted Yeshua faith because we have presented a message that speaks to individual spiritual interests, rather than the common destiny of our Jewish people:
“Jewish individuals will never receive the message of Yeshua the Messiah in any significant numbers until that message speaks to the Jewish community as a whole -- addresses the issues of Jewish community, and Jewish identity -- the question of the ongoing and eternal significance of the Jewish people.”
What is the ongoing and eternal significance of the Jewish people? Why are we significant? The Scriptures are clear: we are significant because we usher in G-d's kingdom on earth. Says Wolf, "our gospel, our good news, for Jewish people is not necessarily, firstly, the message of forgiveness, but it is the message of the Messiah, which is the message of the resurrection, the restoration, of the Kingdom of David." What exactly is this Kingdom? This Kingdom is the kingdom where wolves live with lambs (Isaiah 11:6) and swords that once spilled blood are used to till soil (Micah 40:3-4). In this Kingdom, widows and orphans are not oppressed, women are not exploited, and aliens are not marginalized (Isaiah 1:16, Jeremiah 6:7).

As Jews, we are uniquely tasked with the obligation to usher in this Kingdom. To do so, we must fill in valleys, and flatten mountains and hills (Isaiah 40:3-4). We must correct disparities between humans, stop injustice, bring in the marginalized, and stop impunity. Our unique role in ushering this Kingdom is so critical and non-negotiable that our privilege of living in Ha’Aretz is conditioned on fulfillment of this obligation: “if you stop oppressing foreigners, orphans and widows … then I will let you stay in this place, in the land I gave to your ancestors forever and ever” (Jeremiah 6:7). By ushering in G-d’s Kingdom, through the practice and pursuit of tikkun olam, we directly address the question of the ongoing and eternal significance of the Jewish people (ushering in Mashiach), and even preserve our physical presence in Eretz Yisrael!

There is no greater task.

Conclusion

We must position ourselves at the center of Jewish society and link arms with our Jewish sisters and brothers. To position ourselves “at the center of Jewish life,” we must actively and tangibly pursue tikkun olam through our Messianic congregations and communal institutions. This endeavor requires that we embrace others on the margins, and empower those who are marginalized in our own community (especially women). Pursuing tikkun olam also requires that we extend social action beyond the needs of the Jewish community, and advocate for non-Jews as well. Although acting charitably toward other Jews is an absolute obligation, it does not make us special. Every Jew is obligated to defend our kins(wo)men. We are a tribe, a people, and a culture, and we are bound both by our interests in self-preservation and our covenant with G-d to help each other. But it does not make us special. What makes us special, and what aligns us with the heart of Jewish society, is concern for the “Other.” In embracing the “Other” and defending her, we can position ourselves at the center of Jewish society.

*Excerpt from a paper originally presented at the 2008 Hashivenu Theological Forum

Quote of the Day

Dec 7, 2010 at 11:52 PM

"Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev asks why Hanukkah is considered the holiday of miracles, rather than Passover, when the military victory of the Maccabees and even the miracle of the lights in no way compare to the grandeur of the parting of the Red Sea. Why? Because the miracle of Hanukkah is that we don't wait for God to make miracles happen for us, we take responsibility and act to make manifest our dreams now. In that sense, the real miracle of Hanukkah is human beings becoming agents of the Divine in the world. Hanukkah is about knowing that things can be better and then fighting to turn our dreams into reality.

Rava says that the fourth question we are asked to determine if our lives were lived fully and meaningfully is tzipita l'yishua - did you expect redemption? In other words, did you live mired in reality, or did you believe in the possibility of something better? Did you respond to life with despair or hope? The Jewish consciousness is built on the foundation that each of us is obligated to respond to life's inadequacies with hope - with the knowledge that everything can be different than it is. Tonight, as we light, let's affirm the central element of our humanness -- the ability to dream and the hutzpah to expect that our dreams will, eventually, become real."

-Rabbi Sharon Brous


Quote of the Day

Dec 6, 2010 at 10:33 AM

"Rabbi Hugo Gryn was a child in Auschwitz when his father melted the precious margarine ration to light a Hanukkah candle. Hugo protested. His father said, 'My child, we know you can live three days without water. You can live three weeks without food. But you cannot live for three minutes without hope.' Live in hope."

-Rabbi David Wolpe

Not always what it Seems

Dec 2, 2010 at 8:24 PM

Parashat Mikketz

Things are not always what they seem. Often we make assumptions, only to find out in the end we are wrong. This entire portion points out that we have to be careful about jumping to conclusions. We can additionally ask ourselves, what is the connection between Hannukah and this week’s Torah portion?

The context for this week’s parasha is actually set up in last week’s portion, in Vayeshev. It is full of assumptions. Frustrated with their annoying little brother, the ten eldest sons of Jacob decided their brother would never really amount to anything, and that “getting rid of him” would never come back to haunt them. Josef, although innocent, was also assumed to be in the wrong when accused by Potifer’s wife of trying to seduce her and he was thrown in prison. And although it was assumed the baker and cupbearer would remember Josef, that was not the case, and Josef continued to remain in prison.

Turning to this week’s portion, Mikketz, Pharaoh had a dream that was assumed to be impossible to interpret. However, with the help of G-d, Josef interpreted the difficult vision, and in the end was appointed the greatest leader in all of Egypt, save Pharaoh himself. Some assumed Joseph to be just some cocky and arrogant little kid. But Josef turned out to be Egypt’s greatest savior, and an official with limitless power over the future of a generation.

The Hannukah story is also full of assumptions. It was impossible to imagine that a small group of poorly prepared Jewish farmers would be able to overcome a well prepared army of Greeks, or envision the recapture of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Temple. No one believed that a small amount of oil used to re-light the Temple Menorah would burn for an entire eight days. However, each of these assumptions were proven false. This truly is the season of miracles.

Things are not always what they seem. A small amount of oil, or an ill-considered younger brother, both of whom were thought of as never amounting to anything, could just as well turn out to change the world!


Hanukkah: A festival of Dedication

Dec 1, 2010 at 8:41 AM

Tonight is the beginning of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew, recalls the triumphant events of the Maccabees, and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following its desecration by the forces of Antiochus and the Syrian-Greeks in the 2nd century BCE.

Hanukkah is first mentioned in the apocryphal books of Maccabees. According to 1 Maccabees:

"For eight days they celebrated the rededication of the altar. Then Judah and his brothers and the entire congregation of Israel decreed that the days of the rededication... should be observed... every year... for eight days (1 Mac. 4:56–59)."

The festival of Hanukkah recalls two primary miracles:

1) That a small untrained and ill-equipped army of Jews were able to defeat the mighty forces of the Syrian-Greeks, and;

2) The miracle of the oil burning for eight days.

According to the oldest traditions of Hanukkah, the heroic acts of the Maccabees and the rededication of the Temple are the primary points to the story. Interestingly, the “miracle of the oil” does not actually appear in the apocryphal books of Maccabees. The first place the miracle of oil appears is in the Talmud (Shabbat 21).

Following an earlier discussion on Shabbat candles, the Talmud shifts its attention to Hanukkah. The Talmud states that the forces of Antiochus were driven from the Temple, and that only a single container of ritual olive oil used to light the menorah was found which still contained the official unbroken seal of the Cohen Gadol (the High Priest). There was only enough oil for one day. However, the menorah miraculously burned in the Temple for eight days (the exact amount of time needed to create more oil).

The Gospels record that Yeshua himself observed the festival of Hanukkah:

“At the time the festival of Hanukkah took place in Jerusalem; it was winter, and Yeshua went up to the Temple and was walking in the portico of Solomon. Then a number of Jews gathered around him, and were saying to him, ‘How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’

Yeshua answered, ‘I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of me … I and the Father are One’ (John 10:22-30).”

As such, since the days of the Maccabees, the Jewish community has observed the eight days of Hanukkah. Hanukkah is indeed a Festival of Light. It recalls not just our redemption from tyranny and oppression, but it is also a story of hope and covenant faithfulness. As we observe the eight nights of Hanukkah beginning tonight, may we keep in mind our role to also be bearers of light. For just as our ancestors, the Maccabees, overcame the forces of an enemy power, so too are we able to overcome the forces in life that work against us. For as Romans 8:37 states, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

Tyrants and enemies cannot quench the pintele yid (the Jewish spark), nor the light of Mashiach within each one of us. As we commemorate the rededication of the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple), may we also use this time to rededicate ourselves to living a life of Torah, avodah (service unto HaShem), and ma’asim tovim (acts of loving kindness toward all).

We have an opportunity to shine even brighter than the menorah which once stood (and will stand again) in the Temple through partnering with G-d in bringing redemption into the world, and preparing the world for the coming of Mashiach.

As we celebrate Hanukkah tonight, and continuing through the eight days, may each one of us experience the tremendous light of a joyous season.

Happy Hanukkah!