Tag Archives: candles

a mischievious holiday

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This evening we’re going to light the first candle of Chanukah. That in itself has usually been reason enough for a blog post in the past… maybe just a picture of one candle, representing the first day. But this day started strangely. I turned on the radio, and the first thing I heard was that Rabbi Steinman had a heart attack and that a missile had been fired from Gaza at Ashkelon, our famous city. The same place where Samson used to take Delilah to spend a night at the local motel. I was thinking about that, when Nechama came into the room. She complained that her water was stagnant. Said she just couldn’t bear to drink it. Would I please get up immediately and change the water in her bowl. I got up with an apology and a sigh, washed her bowl, and poured her some fresh cool water, accompanied her to her dining corner, and then sat next to her as she ate breakfast. I don’t start my day with eating.

I remembered that the old rabbi had a heart attack about a month ago… but I hadn’t checked up on how he was doing in the last couple of weeks. There had just been too much news. It was distracting. Last week, for instance, there had been rumors flying around the middle east that Trump was about to announce moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And then, on the same day that the US president was scheduled to make an ‘important announcement’, the Israeli army imploded a tunnel which had been discovered deep in Israeli territory and coming from the Gaza strip. These tunnels are designed to kidnap Jewish people in order to negotiate the release of terrorists from jail, or alternatively to kill as many Jews as they can with the intention to depress or scare us. They see how pampered and soft we are and think that if they could really scare us, we’d leave for Europe or places unknown. It doesn’t matter. What’s important to them is that they get rid of us so that they can build a modern Arab state instead of Israel; something on the order of Syria, Iraq, or Iran.

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potatoes and onions are important
in making potato pancakes

Then that night Pres Trump spoke, not only revealing that he was going to move the embassy, but also saying that the capital of Israel was Jerusalem. Now this wasn’t really news, ‘cause everyone knows… but a lot of people pretend that it’s not true, so it was about as shocking as saying that Santa doesn’t really live on the North Pole. The announcement didn’t really lead to dancing in the streets of Tel Aviv, but a lot of young folks stayed up till late that night for the amusement of following Arab tweets promising to raise hell in the holy land. As the Pals explained, they were so incensed by what Trump had said… that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel… that they were going to show him. They would turn life into hell here in Israel, and that would make Trump wish he was never born. “This is war!” said the head of the local Islamic Jihad. And then Hamas promised a brand new intifada. The PLO which has recently repaired their relations with the Hamas terrorists, took time out from burning pictures of Pres Trump in front of the news cameras to declare that the coming three days would be ‘days of rage’. Out of respect for the individuality of man, they left it open. They didn’t dictate exactly how their youth should express their rage. What we know from past experience is that usually on days of rage some emotionally unstable or brainwashed individuals take their kitchen knives into the streets and try to stab some unsuspecting victim, or throw a stone through a car windshield as someone drives down the street. Bombs are better, but they’re harder to obtain these days. No sooner does a guy buy the ingredients than the secret service comes round for a ‘heart to heart’. Usually there are a lot more Arabs killed and wounded in such waves of violence than are Jews. But that’s okay from their point of view, because the Jews get much more upset if you kill one of them than the Arabs do. The Arabs know that if a young man gets plugged trying to kill a Jew he becomes a martyr and goes straight to heaven where he gets 70 virgins to reward him for his good deed.

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some eat the pancakes with sour cream and others with apple sauce

Meantime, back in Gaza, a meeting was called by and for the Directorate of the central committee for democratic revolutionary Islamic Steering. The posted agenda was, “What to do?” This was the shortest agenda published by the Pals in 20 years, though the last tunnel to be discovered by the army under our territory was only 3 weeks ago. Things seemed to be getting serious. All the serious leaders crawled out of their subterranean bunkers for the meeting, in contrast with the Israeli leadership which has to be called back from the Bahamas, New York, Boston, Paris and Catalonia when there’s an important vote in parliament. But unfortunately, a rift developed during the meeting of the Hamas leadership. Exactly half of the self elected delegates insisted that it was of paramount importance to take vengeance on Trump for his saying that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, while the other half believed that the most pressing obligation of the resistance was taking retribution for the destruction of the tunnel. In the ensuing debate, two paramilitary officers were clubbed with dull weapons, one lost his short term memory after being struck at the base of the skull with a huge stapler made for book binding and provided by the UN committee for international culture, and one member of the steerage committee became an invalid, suffering from a broken knee and an uneven crack in his skull disappearing under his army surplus green and brown camouflage cap. Achmad Sayonara, chief military officer, and acting mayor of Gaza, chose two men, one from each side, as a delegation to a spiritual leader in Gaza, to find a solution to the dilemma.

In a few short hours, the delegation returned with happy news from the Imam. It was possible, they learned, to mount an attack on the Zionist entity that would be dedicated both to vengeance on Trump and retaliation for the destruction of the tunnel. In no time at all, three rockets carrying heavy loads of TNT invented by Alfred Nobel, the very same person who later established the Nobel Prize, awarded for achievements in culture and science, but most revered for its recognition of peace making. Obama got that award. So did Yasser Arafat. Did I say three rockets? Yes, all three heading towards Israel. Sadly, two of these rockets fell on the Pal side of the fence. But one made it all the way to Ashkelon, where it was intercepted by an ‘iron dome’ missile which effectively neutralized it.

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my daughter Rivka preparing jelly rolls
they’re as important as pancakes in celebrating the holiday

At the same time that all this was going on, the doctors in Bnei Brak were giving their all to saving the greatest rabbi of the generation, Rabbi Aharon Yehudah Leib Steinman, recognized by our whole country as the finest of living rabbis. As the president of our country said about him, “his intellectual brilliance was only exceeded by his great modesty”. He was 104 years old; a genius, and a great teacher. When  there arose an issue or a question that no other sage could answer, they would go to him to hear his answer. He was known as a strict teacher, but his modesty was legend. I heard a student of his tell the story of how he was bawled out by the rabbi once, when he demonstrated sloppiness in his studies. The student, properly chastised, returned to the study hall and devoted himself to learning. But a few days later he was called back to the rabbi, who apologized to him for the way he had upbraided him earlier. “I let my emotions influence my judgment”, he said, “I’ve been thinking about it, and I truly regret it if I offended you”. Though he suffered a serious heart attack the time before, his doctors who were also his students, couldn’t bear to see him die, and did their best to revive him. And somehow managed to keep him alive for a month. And even last night, when he had another heart attack, they revived him. And it was only after the second heart attack this morning, that he finally died. One of the reporters asked the doctor, what is the point of trying to revive a man, 104 years old, after he has had two heart attacks and is so weak he can barely speak? The doctor said, I can’t explain it. We loved him so much, and just couldn’t bear to see him go. He was buried today.

His position was not an elected office, nor was it a national appointment. We have a chief rabbi of the country. No this is something else. He is chosen by the wisest rabbis, and the heads of the rabbinical seminaries. There is no pomp or ceremony around him. He lived in a very simple apartment. People who visited him reported that he lived as a poor man, though he could have had anything he wanted.

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this is how the jelly rolls are served

The rabbi asked in his will that his followers not follow him to his burial. Don’t print announcements in the newspapers, he wrote. People have better things to do than make a spectacle of my death. This made no difference, though. There were crowds at his funeral. He said, “please don’t call me a ‘righteous man’ after I’m gone. I don’t want to be ridiculed for it in the world of truth”. Of course, very few listened to his wishes. We will not be sad this evening. We’ll celebrate the holiday We have days of mourning which bring us tears, and celebrations that fill us with joy. That’s the way our religion reminds us that there are ups and downs… even when the intensity of day to day life could mislead us.

for more on the holiday, see:
https://thehumanpicture.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/the-golden-path/

 

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the holiday spirit

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perpetual light

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Before I knew of the existence of the sexual urge, I had a passion for life… for the continuation of life. I came to this world at a time of existential threat to my people and culture. My childhood was associated with the systematic destruction and murder of my people, including members of my own family. Don’t talk to me about it. I am still traumatized after a lifetime.

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Yael in the kitchen

But I am mentioning this subject, so as to share with you some of the thoughts I had last night, when celebrating Chanukah with some of my younger grandchildren. I have older grandchildren too, adults, who are making their own choices, and living their own lives… a granddaughter who is soaking up culture and adventure in far away India. But the younger grandchildren were assembled last night in the home of Jonah and Yael, enjoying the festival of lights with music and games, good food and stories.

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Chagit with the kids

The holiday of lights, Chanukah, as we call it, goes back to the revolt of the Maccabees against the Greek occupation in the second century BCE. The holy temple had been desecrated. Jerusalem had been overrun and defeated. And yet, when the future of the Jewish people looked most bleak, a small group of idealists, led by a priest, succeeded in revolt against a powerful nation that had defeated us. The holy temple, which was a symbol of enlightenment to us, was once again consecrated, and the temple lamp which had gone out, was relit.

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Hillel on guitar

It was a miracle. That was the common consensus. But for those who wanted a more specific description of the miracle, there were differing opinions. Some felt that the miracle was that one flask of oil which should normally have lasted just a day, lasted eight days until more oil could be prepared for the temple lamp. Others saw the miracle in the fact that a little amateur army could overcome the prowess of a great nation. One of my favorite rabbis, said the miracle was that Jews were willing to fight at all. For me, the miracle is that even after total devastation, we are able to reorganize, fight evil, clean up the mess, and find what is sacred and holy.

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David on keyboard

If you’re wondering why it took eight days to prepare the oil for the temple lamp, this is how they would do it. They would take a sack of olives, and squeeze each one. The first drop that came out of the olives was collected. And that was the oil they used for the temple lamp. The lamp symbolized the temple. In our days it is the symbol of the State of Israel. Some of our sages saw the tending of the lamp as even more important than the activities surrounding sacrifices. At our family celebration, all of the children lit their own candles.

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Arieh

As a young man, I was greatly attracted to the arts. In part because the arts connect to values which are more lasting than our own individual lives. Knowing without doubt that I personally would eventually die, I wanted to be part of something that would last longer than I did. Afterwards, when I had children of my own, I started thinking of my children as a continuation of myself. Even after I’d die, my children would continue to live, and my blood would continue in them.

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Ruth

Last night, as I sat in a comfortable chair and watched my grandchildren playing, reading, making music… I asked myself, was I pleased? So many grandchildren… living and learning… healthier and happier than I was at their age. I looked at them all. And each one was different. Each was a world in himself or herself. Each with a distinct and separate personality. Not one of them was me. But there was comfort in the fact that these children are a part of this culture I love. And that they are continuing in their own way along the path I have walked. They’re starting where I got as an old man. And they’ll get further than I ever dreamed.

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Carmel

There have been ups and downs along the way, And I’m sure that they too will have their ups and downs. Honestly, most of them are more interested in sharing with me what they are learning these days, than listening to what I’ve learned through life. But it doesn’t matter that much to me. I see a continuation of the same values I love. And that’s enough for me. We ate potato pancakes and pizza. You know, potato pancakes are part of our tradition for this holiday. And pizza… well, pizza is always a good thing…

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miracles

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The holiday of Chanukah…or Hanukah, as it is sometimes spelled in English (because the English do not have the sound of the first letter of the word in this language), is a holiday that celebrates a miracle. And though we are told the story of the miracle, there are many who continued to ask… what miracle?

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I have to tell you, my friends, that I am not fond of miracles… and don’t like to hear stories about miracles… Why?, you ask. Maybe I don’t believe in miracles? No, it isn’t that. In fact, I have seen miracles with my own eyes. I know there are such things, and I know they happen. But there is something about them, from every which way that you might look at them, that disturbs me… and I used to tell my children and my students, ‘don’t tell me about miracles… and don’t tell me about miracle rabbis’. Yes, for those of you who don’t know… there are some rabbis who are known primarily for their ability to bring about miracles…

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the children check out the new books

In Hebrew, a miracle is called a ‘flag’. It is because it works something like a flag. We look at the world, and we see what we expect to see. Everything is normal. And then, all of a sudden, we see a flag. A flag that reminds us that there are things beyond what we see. There is also a supernatural reality. And that is the miracle. For me, the more I look at life, the more amazing and wonderful it is… beyond what I can understand by far. And so, the educational aspect of the miracle is unnecessary for me. And what’s more, I believe that if we live a life of common sense, and according to the values we’ve been taught… we don’t need miracles. And when we do, if we do… it is usually because of some terrible disaster. And I don’t like to hear about disasters.

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Hillel eats a potato pancake covered with apple sauce

The common understanding of the miracle of Hanukah is that there was only one jar of oil for the constant candle, which used to burn 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in the holy temple. This oil was special. It was made from the first squeeze of ripe olives, and it took a week to prepare such oil, and so it was considered a miracle that the lamp kept burning for eight days until more oil was prepared for this lamp. So why is it, that the priests who found this single jar of oil, didn’t wait until they had a full supply to keep the lamp lit. This is a lesson in how to relate to a situation in which one can realize the sanctity of a situation, but not everything is the way it should be. It reminds us of Nachshon, at the Red Sea, with the Egyptians chasing after us. There were those who were frightened. Not just by the Egyptian soldiers chasing us, but by the fact that there was no way to turn. Nachshon kept going… right into the sea… and the waters receded, leaving dry land for the rest of us to cross. So what we learn, is that when we have some way to do something that is really important for us, existentially, we should go ahead, and not worry whether it is the perfect way to do what we desire.

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they love a chance to draw and paint

But there are many different approaches to the miracle of Hanukah. Some teachers say that the miracle was in the fact that the Jews fought at all. Because anyone who knows the Jews well, knows that we are a peace loving people and don’t like to fight. It is only when we are pressed to the wall, and we have no other possibility, that we actually choose to fight. At times, it is aggravating. Because our reluctance to fight makes our enemies bolder, and they provoke us again and again… wanting to have a rumble. So some say it was a miracle we fought at all. Even when the Greeks had taken over our country, and had appointed their friends to govern, and paraded around with elephants (which were the equivalent of tanks in our eyes)… It was only when they insisted on sacrificing a pig in the holy temple, which was an abomination for us, that we rose up, under the leadership of the priests, and fought.

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singing from a song sheet

There is much I could tell you about this unusual holiday. For the essence of it is our relationship to the holy temple. But I will close with my best wishes to all my friends, and remind you, as I remind my grandchildren, that a candle loses nothing by giving of it’s fire to another candle… and that each candle joins the light in pushing back the darkness… and here are some more pictures of visits from my grandchildren on this happy Hanukah.

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lights

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This week we are celebrating the festival of lights, Hanukah, during which we remember the re dedication of the holy temple, some 2160 years ago, here in Jerusalem. The holiday is dedicated to our memories of the temple and the values that it stood for, and in almost every home, here in Israel, people light candles every evening. For me, this is an opportunity to get together with children and grand children, and join them in celebration. Friends as well as relatives come by. Last night I had the pleasure of listening to a private concert, as my grandson, David, played some well known tunes on the keyboard. Best wishes to all.