Nothing chaps my ass more than when a Jew declares that Chanukah is "just a minor holiday that got big because of Christmas." This kind of statement is typically made by a Jew that just doesn't know their history, or the ramifications of the holiday. Chanukah is, in my opinion, one of the most critical festivals in the Jewish calendar.
Chanukah is not a time for giving presents. This is a modern convention that has led many non-Jews, and secular Jews, to think that Chanukah is the "Jewish Christmas." It is anything but, though it does mark a birth, well...really a rebirth.
In part it commemorates the victory of the Maccabean led Jewish fighters over the Syrian Greeks who had outlawed Torah study, the use of Hebrew language, circumcision, and other vital Jewish practices. It was also a victory over the so-called Hellenist Jews who desired to assimilate into Greek society, adopt their religious practices, and culture.
In the wake of this military and cultural victory, the Temple was reclaimed, and the process of its purification and rededication (the word chanukah means "dedication" in Hebrew) began. Even before the Temple had been cleaned of the impure animals that had been brought in for sacrifice by the Greeks, and their idols had been removed, the Maccabees desired to relight the fires of the Temple's menorah; the seven branched candelabra whose flames were ritually kindled by the priests as commanded by Hashem. Only one cruse of oil bearing the unbroken seal of the high priest could be found in the Temple compound. It should have only lasted for one day, but burned for eight.
This past week, our rabbi asked us why is it that Chanukah's primary remembrance is that of the burning of the oil, and not the military victory over the Greeks? To my mind it is because all things come from Hashem. The Maccabean victory, the reclamation of the Temple, the oil, all were a product of Divine Will. The oil, the rededication of the Temple, this is what gave the defeat of the Greeks meaning. But the rabbi made another point.
The Maccabees, still bloody from the battle, the Temple unclean, desired to kindle the fires of the menorah to awaken the Jewish heart, to be a sign that our national and spiritual life would never be extinguished, so long as we stand by who we are, and never acquiesce to those who attempt to break our bond with Hashem, assimilate, or destroy us.
Today, in the reborn State of Israel, the modern Hellenist Jews; the Baraks, Peres, and Bibis of Israel, still desire to makes us like the rest of the world. They seek to divide us from our land, to forsake our bond with Hakadosh Borachu, the Holy One Blessed Be He. All throughout the festival of Chanukah, the Jews of Judea and Samaria will be rededicating themselves to their bond with G-d, the land He has given us as the embodiment of His unbreakable covenant with us, and to their fight (which should be the cause of all of the Jewish people) to continue to live in and build in the heartland of our people.
Beit El, Chevron, Shiloh...these are not places that we have invaded and stolen. They are places that have been ours for more than 3000 years. This land was not given to Ishmael and Esav. This land was given to us. It was not given to the Muslims by Allah. It was given to us, and the Koran teaches this. The land is not the Knesset's to freeze. It is ours to build up and live in. The Land of Israel is the home of the Jewish people. It is time to bring an end to the Arab occupation.
This Chanukah, above all others, when the world is lining up to break Israel, drive us from our land, drive us from Jerusalem, and the Hellenists of the Knesset seek to make Israel just another country, rather than the land of the Jewish nation, bound in an everlasting covenant with G-d, we must kindle the fires of our history and purpose, stand up, and push back. It is long past time for us to shed the shtetl mentality of exile, and embrace the strength and faith of the Maccabees.
Have a blessed, joyous Chanukah and Shabbat. May the flames of the chanukiah burn in the heart of every Jew, inspire us to turn back to our purpose, complete the liberation of our land, and return to Hashem.
Chodesh Tov, and welcome to Cheshvan 5770. After a month of chagim it's a bit desolate in a way. But then again, if we did the work we were supposed to over the last two months, we are invigorated and in the place we need to be in order to engage the new year and continue the process of growth and renewal that we began in the wake of Tisha b'Av. And, as we heard from the Navi this week, Hashem calls on us again, renewing us in the task at hand...
We have been taken into a bond Hashem, and are to be a light, an inspiration to the nations. We are to open the eyes of those who fail to see, and retrieve those of us imprisoned in the dark. Two names come to mind most of all: Pollard, and Shalit. But there are other prisoners as well. The ones who condemn Israel for the audacity of self-defense, and the members of Am Yisrael that support them. They must have their eyes opened. But without the demand for Jewish leadership in Israel, what message is being sent to the world?
The Israeli government lets Jonathan Pollard rot in Butner, North Carolina, and releases terrorist murderers to see a video of our captured soldier, whom the world clearly cares nothing about. And so we must not only be a light unto the nations, we must be a light to our own people. And we must go forward in strength and determination...
If HaShem is going to be making a show of force, proving His might to His enemies, then who are we to do less? If HaShem has held His peace, but is no longer silent, then so too must we speak out, shout, and demand justice so that every deaf ear will hear.
The world is once again lining up against us. Our communities in Eretz Yisrael are still in jeopardy by the Knesset's hand, and the land entire is under threat from those who continuously seek our destruction.
The words of the Navi are clear. Silence is not an option.
Chanukah seems like a long way off. The lights that we will put in our windows should be kindled in our hearts and minds now so that we will be inspired to fill the days between with our voices to make the nations, and our so-called leaders know that we are not deaf, dumb, and blind.
I have always known that at some point I was going to go home to Eretz Yisrael. I figured I would at least retire there, but I seem to have a certain degree of urgency about it now.
What made it apparent was an opinion piece written by a local Rabbi. He is a Reform Rabbi who possesses a working knowledge of Jewish law, but a skewed view of Israel, so much so that it has been reported to me that he actually discourages Jews from making aliyah. If it were possible to withdraw a Rabbi’s smicha I would do so based on the grounds that it is, in my opinion, chilul Hashem to discourage a Jew from making aliyah. In this miraculous time of redemption, when the visions of the naviim are clearly coming to pass, it is also a crime against Am Yisrael. Unless it would cause undo hardship, or there was an issue of picuach nefesh (preserving a life), I can see no reason for this. But that's just me.
This letter to the editor was written over the summer concerning the Jewish communities of Yehuda and Shomron. It was replete with all the Leftist memes: the settlements are an obstacle to peace; if only they were evacuated the Arabs would lay down their weapons and peace would spontaneously break out. And of course there was the nearly Pavlovian endorsement of Obama’s demand that all Jewish construction cease in Yesha, and eastern Jerusalem. I already knew this man was an active believer in “Peace Now,” so I was not surprised at all. But his seemingly willful ignoring of history was shocking.
There were no settlements in Yesha in the 1920s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, when Arabs rioted, massacred, bombed, and invaded prior to, and following the founding of the modern state of Israel. What was the excuse? How could this man simply ignore this? How could he not be aware of the military and security ramifications of withdrawing to the 1967 Auschwitz lines? I literally felt like vomiting.
Then it occurred to me; this is a man who doesn’t live in Israel, and clearly has no intention of living there. He is perfectly willing to live and die in exile, and feels right at home in America. A colleague of mine pointed out that because he is a Reform Rabbi his smicha means nothing to the Rabbinate in Israel. No marriage or conversion he performs is considered halachically acceptable in Israel. He probably has a deep seeded anger about this. I can certainly understand this, but in the end, he is still a Jew, and Eretz Yisrael is the home of our people. Who is he to discourage a Jew from moving there? Who is he to sit safely in America and attempt to dictate the notion that Israel’s safety and security is best insured by abdicating to a political and terrorist body whose sole purpose is Israel’s destruction? To me that is the hallmark of an insane person.
Then I asked myself, how can I continue to live among such people? How can I consider myself to be an advocate for my nation when I don’t even live in my nation's homeland? Leaving exile just makes sense, spiritually and politically. I live in a country whose government actively works to subvert my homeland. I live in a country that takes my hard earned money and uses it to train and arm the very terrorists who kill my people on buses, markets, restaurants, hotels, and schools, and then tells Israel, make peace with your torturer. Without my consent, my continued residence here funds the killing of my people. It is as if the United States government suffers from Stockhausen by Proxy. It makes me sick.
We just completed 3 weeks of deep spiritual exercises culminating in the ecstasy and joy of Simchat Torah. It was a brilliant act of defiance to march with a Torah in my arms into the streets of our town and dance with my fellow Jews, blocking traffic and making a scene until the police arrived. It was a statement to all that we are here. In spite of 2000 years of attempted genocide we are still here, dancing with our Torah, the thing that many try to lay claim to, but belongs to us. We accepted it when no one else would and shared it with the world. And there we were proudly declaring our claim to this precious gift.
But what I want more than anything else is for every single Jew that was out there in the street that night to be on a plane with a one-way ticket home. I am determined not to make the journey alone. And so I am gathering everyone I can.
To say the last week of Elul is a busy time would be understating it a bit. Running around like a chicken without a head springs to mind, though this year it's been pretty together for me, so far. I have been rearmed with my new tefillin, which I am enjoying immensely.
My honey from Israel arrived on time, so left on the to do list is challah and wine. I found a source for Binyamina wines nearby so no worries about being stuck with Baron Herzog at the last minute.
Speaking of Binyamina wine, I volunteered to read the haftorah for the second day of Rosh Hashanah. It's inspiring to read a prophesy that we can see coming to pass before our very eyes...
Yes, the grapes are growing on the mountains of Shomron. The planters plant, and are indeed making use of them. I love it when a plan comes together. I thank HaShem every day for not making me a goy, but this time of year I find to be the most delicious and sweet to be of Am Yisrael. Oh, to be in Eretz Yisrael to walk among the vineyards, and not just taste the wine.
I really can't speak of the more personal side of this week. I think that what goes on between a Jew and HaShem is best left between the two. But what a joy it is join the relationship anew at this time of year, when the air grows crisp and clearer, when the harvest comes in, and the gates are so wide open.
I can speak on the distance between myself and our land. In physical terms it should be about 6000 miles, but really it's only the distance of one verse from Jeremiah. I will be chanting only 19 verses on the second day, while 20 are read in Israel.
I find it a little sad we don't read that last verse in Galut, the place in greatest need of markers, the place from which we have the greatest need to set our hearts toward home. I suppose that we have no physical roads out here on which to walk, but my feet are pointed that way. I'll walk home if that's what it takes.
My new tefillin arrived today. All my thanks to Rabbi Zalman for his help in getting them to me. But of course the story does not end there. Rearmed and ready to face the challenges of the new year, with Elul drawing to a close, I continue to look back, and look ahead. And we have collective challenges as a people as well.
We read the last of the haftorot of consolation this week, and see that HaShem is restless, on the move, and making ready for our redemption. Yeshayahu speaks of watchmen upon the walls of Jerusalem. We see an image of G-d doing battle with His enemies. The metaphor is of blood staining a raiment, as HaShem has trodden upon his enemies like grapes in the winepress, even as he is ready to redeem us and take us to Him as a groom weds his bride.
In this time, when the voices of our enemies grow louder, as they demand our land, our cities, our capital so too must we stand up. If we are being wed to HaShem, how can we be ready if we are silent? If G-d is going to battle with our enemies, then we are bidden to do so as well, each in their own way. When our destruction is sought, every act we commit that upholds our laws and traditions is a blow to our enemies. Every time we stand up to the voices of propagandists and liars, even those among our own people (unfortunately, there are many), we thwart those who seek to do us harm, and bring the redemption of all of Israel that much closer.
Who are the watchers on the walls? We are. When the government of the United States does not recognize Jerusalem as our capital, and seeks to divide the city as the Jordanian Army did, expelling us totally; when they say that Jews born in Jerusalem cannot denote Israel as their country of birth on an American passport, we must be the guardians. We must be the voice that speaks out. We must be the shofarot that blast the message that we are in our land, we are in our Holy City, and we are not leaving again.
Now, as we have seen in the past, when HaShem hardens the hearts of our enemies, it strengthens the resolve of the nation. Though this has not yet translated into action within the Knesset to bring a halt to negotiations with, and talk of giving our land up to our enemies, there is a growing consciousness in Israel, and in Diaspora, that our enemies are once again mounting pressure on Am Yisrael to surrender itself, to compromise itself.
Too often we have seen what happens when the powers that be compromise and corrupt themselves. We also know the consequences of fighting amongst ourselves. We have seen it throughout our ancient history, and into the modern era. More and more Am Yisrael is realizing the crossroads at which we stand. And though the quarreling among us has even escalated into violence, as we see have seen played out over the last several months...over a parking lot...where Jews feel justified in profaning the Sabbath in order to defend it (seriously...is this Chelm or Eretz Yisrael?). But our national existence, the preservation of our homeland is at stake and there is a consciousness that is awakening within us, in Eretz Yisrael, and in Galut.
You can see it in an illustrative story about a girl who has come of age, and used the occasion to collect gifts for members of the IDF. You can see it in Israeli polls, when support for Yesha is growing, as is the opposition to a construction freeze; the direct result of what happened in Gush Katif. You can see it in the rapidly growing number of Haredim in enlisting in the IDF. You can see it in a slow, but steady increase in the numbers of us making aliyah...to the point that we are fast approaching the tipping point when there will be more Jews living in our homeland than in exile.
Hostile forces are gathering around us, from all corners of the earth, but rather than be silent, Am Yisrael is speaking out. Whether it is in Yesha communities like Binyamin or Ma'aleh Adumim, the message is clear that Am Yisrael is in the land, and we are not leaving. Voices of resistance and protest are gathering in Diaspora as well. We are not silent. If anything, our voices must get louder. Is this not what Yeshayahu has been channelling to us over the weeks since Tisha b'Av, and does again this week?
Last night I gathered with fellow Jews at the Chabad house for Shabbat dinner. Most of these folks are young college and post graduate students. When it came time for the l'chaims a young woman, a third year law student, stood up and spoke about the bombing in Buenos Aires at the AIMA Jewish Community Center. Coming two years after the bombing of Israel's Buenos Aires embassy in which 29 were killed, and 250 were injured, the AIMA bombing took the lives of 87, with over 100 wounded. No justice has been achieved in either case. The Jewish community there continues to speak out, continues to shame the authorities, continues to demand justice in the face of an incident that Argentinian authorities seem content to leave unsolved.
She spoke of a people who, though small in number, have risen up and fought for justice in the past, and must do so again. She raised a glass and asked us to toast that this coming year would be one in which we fought for justice, that though we are not as large as the other nations of the world, that when we speak with one voice we make ourselves heard.
I couldn't agree more.
In her last post before Shabbat, Lemon writes of a young boy who was killed, and another wounded by a pickaxe wielding Arab. Shalom Nativ was 13; the age when Jews accept the yoke of mitzvah, and take their place among the people. Instead Shalom takes his place on the long list of children who have been murdered in cold blood in their own land.
Who in the world is going to demand justice for Shalom Nativ? Will it be Marack, who demands that Jews not even build in their own capital, and considers Jews building homes in their communities the great impediment to peace? Will it be Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak, or Bibi Netanyahu? They seem more interested in committing acts of injustice against Jews in their homeland that fighting for justice. Will it be the world community that is busy funneling money into the pockets of the terrorists who are trying to kill us? As far as the world seems to be concerned, we are the problem...Shalom Nativ brought his death by pickaxe on himself because, after all, he's a living, breathing Jew in his homeland.
If the world sees us, our homes, and our homeland as the problem, then it is up to us, as this young woman in America, some 6000 miles from the place where Shalom Nativ died has suggested, to pursue and achieve justice; for the Buenos Aires bombing, for the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, for the death of Shalom Nativ, and for every other child murdered by the racists of the world that they world ignores with its perpetual silence.
When we daven the Amidah we refer to Hashem as Melech ohev tzeddakah u'mishpat, our King who loves righteousness and justice. On Rosh Hashanah we replace those words with HaMelech, HaMishpat: The King, the Justice.
When the world is silent, we must speak out. As we fast approach the Yomim Nora'im and ask for justice and mercy from Hashem, we are also bidden to seek justice. How can we ask the King of Justice for anything if we are unwilling to act ourselves?
When our blood is being shed, silence is not an option.