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GOOD MORNING! The first candle is lit Tuesday, December 7th. I thought you might enjoy a perspective article written by my friend and colleague, Rabbi Nachum Braverman, Aish HaTorah Los Angeles, to enhance your appreciation of Hanukah.
WHAT WERE THE MACCABEES FIGHTING FOR?
It is ironic that Hanukah is so widely observed in America, because it's not clear that Jews today would side with the Maccabees. The Jews didn't battle the Greeks for political independence and Hanukah can't be recast as an early-day version of Israel against the Arabs. Hanukah commemorates a religious war.
The Greeks were benevolent rulers, bringing civilization and progress wherever they conquered. They were ecumenical and tolerant, creating a pantheon of gods into which they accepted the deities of all their subjects. Their only demand was acculturation into the melting pot of Greek civilization and religion.
The Jewish community was divided in response to this appeal. Some believed assimilation as a positive and modernizing influence and they welcomed the release from Jewish parochialism. Led by Judah Maccabee was a small group opposed to the Greek ideal, and prepared to fight and die to preserve the exclusive worship of Judaism. (The name "Maccabee" is an acronym for the Torah verse "Who is like You amongst the gods, Almighty.")
This was no war for abstract principles of religious tolerance. It was a battle against ecumenicism, fought by people to whom Torah was their life and breath. Would we have stood with the Maccabees or would we too have thought assimilation was the path of the future? Would we fight for Judaism today, prepared to die to learn Torah and to keep Shabbat?
Today we face a crisis of identity as serious as the one confronted 2,500 years ago. Will we survive this century as a religious community or merely as a flavor in the American melting pot? Hanukah calls to us to combat assimilation and to fight for our heritage.
I love stories with action, adventure, suspense ... and a happy ending. And I love when I have a story to tell that illustrates a point. I think one should never ask a rabbi a question unless he is prepared to hear a story - perhaps even a long-winded story - as part of the answer.
I heard the following story years ago when I lived in Israel and to the best of my knowledge it is true. Before the USSR let the Jews leave for Israel, Jews used to hire a guide to smuggle them out of Russia. One Hanukah a group of Jews were playing "cat and mouse" with a Soviet army patrol as they approached the border. When the guide thought they had lost the patrol, he announced an half-hour break before continuing the trek. One of the escapees, hearing the "magic" number of "one-half hour" - the minimum time a Hanukah candle must be lit to fulfill the mitzvah - pulls out his menorah, sets up the candles, says the blessing and starts to light the candles. The other escapees immediately pounce upon him and the menorah to put out the candles - when the Soviet patrol moves in and completely encircles them.
The head of the army patrol speaks: "We were just about to open fire and wipe you out when I saw that man lighting the Hanukah candles. I was overcome with emotion; I remember my zaideh (grandfather) lighting Hanukah candles .... I have decided to let you go in peace."
There is a verse in the Book of Psalms, (chapter 116, verse 6), "The Almighty protects fools." Should he have lit the candle? NO! The Talmud tells us (Ta'anis 20b), "One should not put himself in a place of danger saying, 'Let a miracle happen.' " So, while the story is one of action, adventure, suspense ... the real lesson is not to rely upon a miracle to save you from danger.
Torah Portion of the Week
Pharaoh dreams of cows and sheaves and demands for someone to interpret his dreams. The wine butler remembers Joseph's ability to interpret dreams. They bring Joseph from the jail. Pharaoh acknowledges the truth of Joseph's interpretation (that there would be seven good years followed by seven years of famine) and raises Joseph to second-in-command of the whole country with the mandate to prepare for the famine.
Ten of Joseph's brothers come to Egypt to buy food, Joseph recognizes them, but they don't recognize him. Joseph accuses them of being spies and puts them through a series of machinations in order to get them to bring his brother Benjamin to Egypt. Then Joseph frames Benjamin for stealing his special wine goblet.
Next week ... the denouement!
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"And they said one man to his brother (Joseph's brothers), we are guilty about our brother. We saw the suffering of his soul when he pleaded to us and we did not listen to him. Therefore, this misfortune has befallen us." (Genesis 42:21)
What lesson for our lives can we learn from their statement?
Rabbi Dovid of Zeviltov comments in the commentary Otzer Chaim: If a person did something wrong and recognizes that he has done wrong, he will be forgiven. However, if a person does something wrong and denies it, there is no atonement for him. When Joseph's brothers previously said that they were innocent, Joseph responded by calling them spies. When they said that they were guilty, Joseph was full of compassion for them and cried.
Many people deny their faults and the things that they have done wrong because they mistakenly think that others will respect them more by their doing so. In reality people admire someone with the honesty and courage to admit his mistakes. It takes a braver person to say, "Yes, I was wrong." This kind of integrity will not only build up your positive attribute of honesty, but will also gain you the respect of others. When you apologize to someone for wronging him, he will feel more positive towards you than if you denied that you did anything wrong. This awareness will make it much easier for you to ask forgiveness from others.
CANDLE LIGHTING - December 10:
(or go to http://www.aish.com/candlelighting)
Guatemala 5:15 Hong Kong 5:22 Honolulu 5:31
J'Burg 6:35 London 3:33 Los Angeles 4:24
Melbourne 7:12 Miami 5:13 Moscow 3:41
New York 4:11 Singapore 6:42
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
If you don't choose a path for life,
life will choose a path for you .