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So I’m sitting here listening to Matisyahu rock it on the Miracle remix EP and thinking about Hanukkah. I’ve been having this nearly heretical thought lately. I know, not shocking for me — but go with it.
Hanukkah is the festival of lights – right?
The solstice aspect and the reviving of the light is even older than the Maccabee aspect, if you think about it. There’s certainly ancient midrash about Adam at the solstice and such. The central ritual activity is lighting the 9-branch menorah called a Hanukkiah. Just about everything else we added on over the centuries, which is just fine.
But let’s go back to that light thing again. It’s the festival of lights….
Okay, so here’s what I’m thinking about. All those super pretty lights, preferably the white ones – not the tacky color ones, that our Christian neighbors put up this time of year. Yeah…we have the festival of lights, but they put up the lights? I know it could be seen as the height of assimilation, but what if we adopted white lights on our homes too. It seems like the urge to put all those lights and candles up all springs from a deep mythic place where we are all afraid of the dark. Where we’re all afraid that the sun really won’t come back and it will just keep getting darker and darker.
I know when I walk home during the winter I’m so grateful for all those lights. They push back the darkness. The remind me, even the tacky ones, that I have neighbors and I’m not alone in the world. Someone must be there to make those lights happen right?
Trust me, I’m not for the Christmas-ization of Hanukkah. I had a “Hanukkah Bush” when I was a kid. It makes me a bit ill in retrospect. There’s just no way that tacky white plastic tree had anything to do with the Jewish wheel of the year. But lights I think we have a pretty valid claim on. I know traditional Judaism likes to put as many walls between us and breaking mitzvot as they can, but would some pretty white lights be so wrong during these dark days?
What so many of us know about the holiday of Purim is what we can remember from the reading of the Megilah, getting to scream and yell in Synagogue, and, well, getting really…really….lit. Nothing like a Jewish holiday where we are actually supposed to get drunk and party. Yes. It’s the Jewish Mardi Gras.
All of that is amazing, fun and good.
But there is another tradition of Purim that I think we should all be talking about and more importantly DOING: Mishloach Manot (aka Shalach Manot).
Simply, this mitzvah is about the giving of two kinds of food gifts to someone. Mostly now it seems to be about giving a couple of kinds of hamentaschen to your grandmother. But there is such a clearer, deeper reason for this. Purim falls just as the winter is coming to an end. The time when in another era, in [Read more…]
I thought I’d kick off 5773 by exploring Judaism’s relationship with ancestor engagement, or veneration of the dead. I don’t say “worship” because we don’t do that — at least not officially. Although we seem to mention those ancestors an awful lot. Ever heard the phrase, “The G!d/dess Abraham, Issac, and Jacob,” but I digress.
Tishrei, the official head of the Jewish year is chock full of holidays. We have Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe, during which is also the Autumnal Equinox. Then we have Sukkot, Hoshanah Rabba, Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah. This is the time of the year, where we take stock and look to the year ahead. It makes a lot of sense to do this in the Fall. In ancient times, or just an agrarian culture, this is when you finish up the harvest [Read more…]
My teacher, Jill Hammer, posits that Passover is an initiation ritual. A ritual where we, as individuals are initiated into a tribe year after year, century after century, millennia after millenia. Really Passover is part of an extremely long initiation ritual that begins the night before Passover and ends at Shavuot — where we are transformed by accepting the Mitzvot and the relationship with the Holy One.
This long transformative period begins at the first of Nisan, which is know as the New Year of Kings. This is one of the four new years known on the Jewish calendar. It is the marker in time where we turn our thoughts to recommitting ourselves to the Holy One individually, but more importantly as a nation of people. To be a “king” you cannot just have an individual bound to you, but a full nation of people.
Most Passover seders are fun, family events that [Read more…]