By Patrick Aleph
The miracle of Hanukkah, I think, is the fact that we turned a civil war between fundamentalists and moderates into a celebration of potatoes and jelly doughnuts. Let me explain.
While it is true that the Hanukkah narrative involves the rededication of the Temple ransacked by the Syrians, the actual conflict leading up to the temple desecration was a cultural move away from what at the time would be considered traditional Jewish practice, to a hybrid of Jewish law, in the context of Greek culture. The Hellenistic Jews, it seems, were assimilated Jews who wanted to combine the best-of-both-worlds into one practice. And this really made the orthodox Jews angry. War erupted, with the traditionalist Maccabees winning against the Hellenists. Then comes the oil miracle, and now we play religiously sanctioned gambling with chocolate.
“If the Maccabbes were still around, we’d be dead” said Michael, our Alterna-Rebbe. And I agreed. In 2004, a group of rabbis tried to revive the Sanhedrin in Israel, a move that did absolutely nothing but make Westernized Jewry laugh. But I do wonder, could a time ever come where a court of Jewish law will slaughter anyone that doesn’t fit into the religious mold that the traditionalists set, as we are told to do in Exodus 22:17, Leviticus 20:27, Exodus 22:19, Deuteronomy 13:13-19 and Deuteronomy 13:7-12?
The miracle of Hanukkah, it seems, is that we’ve taken a holiday that, when experienced historically would have been the downfall for many cultural Jews, and turned it into a holiday that celebrates the triumph of the human spirit over oppressive forces. So put that in your jelly doughnut!
It’s almost Hanukkah! Or is it Chanukkah? Anyway, it’s the Festival of Lights, and you’re rummaging all over the internet for cool Hanukkah crafts, Hanukkah recipes and of course the “how do I light a menorah” question.
Well, look no more, because it’s all here at PunkTorah.
JEWISH LEARNING: First, get in the spirit of Hanukkah by reflecting on our Hebrew month of Kislev. PeelAPom aka Ketzirah has two amazing article: one on Kislev and rededication, as well as the Hanukkiah.
KIDS: Make a Hanukkah watercolor lantern to brighten up your home!
The parsha of Vayeishev has one of the most well-known stories in the Torah. Most Jews, and many Christians, are very familiar with the story of Joseph’s coat of many colors given to him by his loving father Jacob. We are told that Jacob favored Joseph over his other sons because he was a son “of his old age.” The consequences of this favoritism starts out tragically, but by the end of the story it is revealed to be a triumph for the will of G-d. So how does an ancient Jewish story have any guidance for us in the 21st Century – the age of social media?
The first lesson is that although technology may change rapidly, human nature does not. The reason this story resonates with us today is because we recognize the human nature involved. We comprehend that a parent who favors one child over another will most likely cause problems with the other children. We are aware that a child seemingly boasting of this relationship with his siblings in the family will only exacerbate the tensions between them. In short, we can identify dysfunctional families because they also exist today. Human nature has not changed over thousands of years even if we have computers, Twitter, and the internet. Technology does not replace the need to be cognizant of human nature.
The second lesson is a story of courage, one of the finest parts of human nature. Joseph was almost murdered because of his dream interpretations – and yet he persisted. He recognized the truth of his gift from G-d and continued to use it even if it caused others to be envious of him. It was this same gift which drew the attention of Pharaoh who elevated him to the lofty position of administering the Pharaoh’s kingdom. If he had not used the gift due to the trouble it brought upon him, he would not have achieved the status he did. He also would have been unable to use his gift to save his family and hundreds of thousands of human lives (Egyptians).
So how are we to be courageous today? By using our own G-d given gifts to make the world a better place regardless of the risk. Like Joseph we may have to ignore the danger of being out of step with our families, and even our society, in order to persist with the truth. It is very difficult to be the one light shining in a sea of darkness, but we also know that only if we use our gifts will we know the true reason for our existence. With courage, we can be like Joseph and have a very positive impact on perfecting our families and our world.
Despite its lack of productive application in our world, the concept of vengeance can seem sweet, satisfying and even righteous. When a wrong of great egregiousness has been perpetrated against the innocent, our initial response may be an anger-fueled compulsion towards retaliation. We may entertain thoughts of inflicting harm or even abject violence. We may even derive a sense of calm and balance from such visions.
When a friend of mine endured harassment that grew increasingly threatening, my first thoughts were of assembling a posse and in the dead of night, slashing the perpetrator’s tires and breaking his windows. The image of my friends and I as an indestructible force motivated by moral outrage still makes me chuckle. And while this scenario would have been relatively easy to realize, I instead accompanied my friend to the police station where she filed a report and initaited a peaceful resolution to the situation. Vegeance may prove momentarily exhilirating, but its long-term consequences can be diastrous.
In this week’s parshah, Simeon and Levi choose a path of violence breathtaking in scope. Their sister, Dinah, has engaged in sexual activity with Shechem, a Hivite Prince. They are not married, nor is Shechem a member of Dinah’s community. It is important to note that some commentators characterize this incident as rape. Some translations use the word “force.” However, the text conveys affection on the part of Shechem and seems to indicate mutual consent. “Being strongly drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob, and in love with the maiden, he spoke to the maiden tenderly” (Genesis 34:3).
Shechem’s father visits Jacob and requests Dinah be married to his son. Further, he invites the Israelites into his community to live as one people. However, Simeon and Levi remain outraged at what they consider an inexcusable violation. Two interpretations exist – Dinah engaged in pre-marital sex with someone from outside of the community or she was raped. Both of these scenarios would consitute profound violations among the Biblical Israelites.
Simeon and Levi’s response is to slaughter every man in Hamor’s community, plunder the town, and claim the women, children, and resources for the Israelites. Jacob is incensed. “You have brought trouble on me,” he tells his sons, “making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my men are few in number, so that if they unite against me and attack me, I and my house will be destroyed” (Genesis 34:30). The vegeance perpetrated by the brothers has threatented the very survival of their own community. They have succeed only in ensuring that every member of their tribe lives in fear of the nations they may encounter, and fomenting a collective reputation as mercilessly violent. They have marked every Israelite as a danger that must be neutralized.
Evaluating all options, considering the consequences, and taking the long view requires patience, intention and suspension of judgment. Had I followed through with my own ideas of vandalism, I may have faced criminal charges. The harassment against my friend may have escalated into violence. Nothing productive or positive would have been accomplished. For Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s situation could have proved a catalyst for opening their hearts and extending support to their sister. They were granted the opportunity to think critically about the social conventions of their own community, their individual commitments to family, and the future of the Israelite people. They opted to reject such an opportunity, choosing monumental bloodshed instead.
This week’s parshah invites us to consider the parallels in our modern world. Mainstream news is rife with physical, verbal, and emotional violence. Vengeance can certainly be found in the actions of individuals, communities and entire nations. Through this lens, Jacob’s response to the violence committed by his sons proves a powerful lesson of timeless reverberation.
Akiva Yael is an enthusiastic participant in all that is holy, including Torah study, powerlifting, and the beauty of our world.