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A 5772 Ve'ahavta Hanuka Message
Dr. Seymour Epstein (Epi)
This is a D'var Torah originally intended for A Ve'ahavta Hanuka Message
Hanuka means dedication but the same Hebrew root means education, and I’ve always thought that Hanuka is the most educative holiday. First, the rabbis considered the hanukia that we light each night to be an advertisement to the world. They called it pirsumei nisa, publicizing the miracle. The hanukia is meant to enlighten the outside world, not our homes.
But, perhaps even more importantly, the complex story of Hanuka changes as we mature and learn more of its history. As youngsters the story is all about the 8-day miracle of oil. As we read history we learn that the oil story doesn’t exist in the early primary sources on the Hanuka events of 166 BCE. We wonder why the rabbis so stressed that story and under-played the original version. And why didn’t the Hasmonean account end up in the Hebrew Bible? These questions create an ongoing learning experience as adults celebrate the holiday every year. We grow with the story and the story grows with us. As much as we want the festival to be relevant to children and fun as well, we have a responsibility to ourselves as adults not to permit Hanuka to become “Pediatric Judaism”.
Ultimately we will find that Hanuka has adult significance in that the original struggle was one of maintaining the spirit of Second Temple Jewish life while under the powerfully attractive influence of Hellenistic culture. Sound familiar? No holiday could be more relevant to our own complex ambiguities. Today we are constantly reminding ourselves that in a consumerist self-centered culture there are ancient Jewish values found in our classical texts that speak to us today regarding our responsibility to bridge the gap between the way the world is and the way it ought to be. We call that tikun olam. Let the bright lights of Hanuka advertise to the world that we remember the life-critical lessons and aspire to apply them in our daily lives.
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