Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Chanukah Miracles

[somehow, I put the wrong link in when I first posted this - if you clicked through, try it again - it's much better than the other one!]

Nothing for a month or more, now three posts in a day. It's all about momentum...

Anyway, as you probably know, tonight is the first night of Chanukah. Chanukah is a strange holiday, because it's been so heavily influenced by Christmas - most people realize that the holiday has become so much more important to Jews in the West because our neighbors are celebrating a major festival of their own around the same time (well, most years - this year, we're pretty far apart), and we've done a bit of compensating, as a result.

I suspect that I'm not alone in that, when I was a kid, I loved Chanukah - I thought it was the best holiday. No big surprise - presents will do that to a kid. But, as I grew older, I began to care less about Chanukah - I realized how much our celebration of this festival reflected a kind of assimilation (not exactly the right word, but close enough for now), and a kind of me-too-ism which didn't seem so necessary, once I started to gain a stronger, more mature Jewish identity. Many of us become somewhat proud of minimizing the importance of this holiday which is, strictly speaking, pretty minimally important, in the grand scheme of things. It was a sign of our seriousness as "authentic Jews" that we didn't invest too much emotion into these 8 days.

But, as I've gotten even older, and been able to learn more, I've come to appreciate Chanukah on an even deeper level. The truth is that, however minor or major it may be, Chanukah is an incredibly interesting holiday. The simple story that we tell the kids - the mighty Maccabees defeat the terrible Syrian-Greeks! - misses so much nuance.

The Maccabees were really fighting, among others, Jews who wanted to acculturate - not assimilate fully into the outside culture, but take the best of both worlds and live as honestly as possible as "Modern People," and as Jews. That sounds familiar to me - it's what all of us non-Ultra-Orthodox Jews are trying to do. And, the Maccabees weren't so pure, themselves - ironically, they relied on logical reasoning, imported from the Greek world, to justify some of their actions against the Greeks. So, the purists only fought off the outside culture by appropriating some of it! Crazy!

And then there are the lessons which, whatever you make of the history of the holiday, really can continue to inspire. I came across this lovely article about Chanukah - pointing out some messages which permeate these days of light. See the possibilities of redemption in the ruins of our world. See the sacred, where others see only defilement. Find the small vessels of purity, even if they're few and well hidden. Trust yourself enough to light the flame which begins to banish the darkness.

Those are lessons which even a kid can understand, but only an adult can really grasp.

Chag Urim Sameach - a happy Festival of Lights to you all.

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