December 2015: Hanukkah – Then And Now

The Talmud explains the holiday of Hanukkah as follows:  On the 25th of Kislev, the Maccabees entered the Holy Temple of Jerusalem.  They discovered that the Greeks had defiled all of the oil for sacred use, they searched and found only one cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest, which contained sufficient oil for one day’s lighting only.  Yet, a miracle occurred and they lit the lamp for eight days.  The following year these days were appointed as a Festival.

When they considered the miracle, our sages asked why the Festival of Hanukkah was celebrated for eight days rather than seven, because since there was, by all accounts, sufficient oil for one day, only seven of the eights day could be regarded as miraculous.

Several ingenious explanations were offered.  One of them is that only an eighth of the quantity of oil burned out on the first day and an eighth on the second day, and so on.  What strikes me as being the miraculous features of the initial day was the willingness of the community to light the lamp in spite of the fact that its anticipated period of burning was insufficient to complete the rededication of the temple.  Hanukkah celebrates the miracle created by those who lit the lamp, and not only the miracle of the lamps continued burning for eight days.

I believe that the miracle of Jewish spiritual survival, through its history of wandering and oppression may best be ascribed to our people’s ability to live without any guarantee of success, and to focus on beginning a process and maintaining it without knowing how it would end, or in what way it could continue.  Uncertainty of success often paralyzes people’s initiative to act.  Sometimes people refuse to study Torah or engage in Jewish education because they believe that they lack sufficient time and ability to become knowledgeable.  Human initiative is so often undermined by the feeling that since completion of the task is not assured there is no point in making the effort to begin.

At Temple Beth El we have begun a process of transformation.  Our goal is to create a community that will help us perpetuate our synagogue and our Judaism.  Celebrating our 100 anniversary puts us in the threshold to be thankful for our incredible first one hundred years and behoove us to think and try different thing to map out our future.

Rabbi Brad Artson without any doubt has propelled that initiative even further.  We are at that moment when we need to reinvent ourselves so our grandchildren will have a Temple Beth El.

I ask you to bring your ideas, voice your opinions so we can have a “buy in” from you in what our dear Temple will become.

Let’s think about it.  One brings children into the world without knowing whether one will be able to adequately nurture them and provide for their needs.  Only in actually caring for one’s children does one discover and expand one’s capacity for love, concern and guidance.

There were many who were skeptical of the decision to light the temple lamp with the single cruse of oil.  “Why light a flame which is bound to burn out before the temple is completely rededicated?  Let the temple remain as it is, defiled, until we are certain that we have enough oil to light the lamp for a long period.  Why initiate a process which we cannot complete?

Those who went ahead and kindled the lamp ignored such voices of reason and availed themselves of the precious opportunities at hand.

Hanukkah is the season that renews our hope.  Skeptics can cite abundant reasons to challenge this hope, but the spirit of Hanukkah renews in our hearts the determination to light the “first candle” and preserve faith in the fulfillment of the future.

I am asking that you help us to light that first candle of the new Temple Beth El, transformed into a place of full inclusion and of great dreams of uplifting services.

Let’s join hands and witness together what we can do.  Perhaps we will see the Miracle of Hanukkah appear.

Rabbi Leonardo Bitran