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During the Second Temple, the Greek empire reigned (over Israel),1 and they (the Greeks) passed decrees against the Jews and (tried) to erase their religion, and did not allow them to carry out Torah (study) or the commandments. They put their hands on their property and their daughters. They entered the Temple, destroyed and made the pure unclean. The Jews were in great distress because of them and were much oppressed, until the G-d of their fathers had mercy on them, delivering them from their hands and saving them. Then overcame, the sons of the Hasmonean High Priest, (the Greeks) and killed them and saved the Jews from their hands. They appointed a king from the Priests, and the kingdom of Israel was restored for more than 200 years until the destruction of (the) second (Temple). When the Jews overcame their enemies and destroyed them, it was the 25th of Kislev2 when they entered the Sanctuary (inner room) and did not find pure (olive) oil in the Temple, except one jar sealed with seal of the High Priest, and it did not contain enough to light except for one day only. But they lit from it the lamps of the Menorah3 for eight days, until they could crush olives and produce a (new quantity) of pure oil. For these reasons, decreed the Sages of that generation that these eight days that begin on the 25th Kislev, will be days of joy and praise. One lights on them lamps at evening at the entrance to the houses, every evening of the eight nights to show off and demonstrate the miracle. These days are called ''Hanukah'' that is to say ''they rested'' (chanu) on the ''25'' ('th of the month) because on the 25th they rested from their enemies. and also because of those days they (re)-dedicated the house (Temple) which their foes had defiled. Also some say that it is a commandment to increase slightly the festive meals on Hanukah. Another reason is because the work of (building) the Sanctuary (in the desert) was completed in these days. One should tell one's children the story of the miracles that were done for our fore-fathers in those days, (see Josephus) However, these meals are not considered as part of the commandment unless one says at the meal songs of praise. One should increase charity in these Hanukah days, for this can help mend any defects in our souls. This charity, should be given particularly to poor Torah scholars. (KSA 139:1)
1) 352 BCE until 70 CE
2) 139 BCE
3) The Menorah was made of gold and had seven branches.
It has been a busy week. it began with a Bar Mitzvah on Motzai Shabbos, a wedding on Tuesday and a funeral on Wednesday. Truthfully, this is not all that different from what a typical week looks like. The difference was, the Bar Mitzvah was on zoom, the wedding livestreamed on YouTube and the funeral took place in the parking lot of my shul in the pouring rain with 10 men, standing 6 feet apart, while I delivered a eulogy standing under the open trunk door of the minivan containing the casket. These are challenging times. During these last two weeks we have seen the normal rhythms of life come to a grinding halt. The way we do virtually everything has changed. The social and religious norms that many have known their entire lives have changed. It feels like everything is different. As Jews, it is our sacred mission to realize that within every set of circumstances is a lesson to be learned. God speaks to us in times of good and in times of challenge.
This week I learned a lot. From the funeral I conducted, I was reminded that life comes to an end. I realized that there are things I have to fix in myself and I can’t delay it any longer. I must do Teshuva (repentance). I have been to and conducted many funerals and yet I never had this feeling before. We are living with the specter of illness hovering above us at all times and we are constantly confronted by the reality of our mortality. It really hit me – I won’t be here forever. And if I won’t be here forever, what do I want to accomplish? Who do I want to be? What is my legacy? Am I leading a meaningful and fulfilling life? Is Hashem happy with me? Am I happy with myself? This is probably the appropriate reaction after any funeral, but it must have been the driving rain, the grayness of the sky, the 6 feet in between each of the attendees and the contemplative state I find myself in that propelled me to the inner recesses of my soul.
But as I mentioned before this was also a week of incredible simcha. I learned that the ability to generate genuine joy is not related to the menu, centerpieces, venue choices or apparel options. I listened to a Bar Mitzvah boy deliver his Dvar Torah with a genuine simcha despite the lack of “party” trappings. I danced with my sons in my home as the Bar Mitzvah boy and his family danced in their home and yet, somehow, we were all together. I saw a bride and groom who possessed so much love for each other and yet all they had was one holy Jew playing the guitar for them. We live in a time of unparalleled affluence (IY’H the market will recover) and too often we think that it is the material trappings which create the joy around life events. Lest you think that this is a rant against materialism, in full disclosure, I too (really) enjoy the finer things in life. But we must strive to create balance. The COVID 19 crisis will come to an end IYH. The question is who will we be on the other side of this crisis? Will we breathe a sigh of relief and go back to business as usual? Or will we take a critical look at how we do things and consider changing course. We have seen firsthand that you can create incredible joy with very little. It is the people who make the simcha jubilant. In fact, we see this concept in this week’s Parsha:
And if a person (nefesh, soul) brings a meal offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil over it and place frankincense upon it (Vayikra 2:1).
And if a person brings: [literally, “And if a soul brings.”] Regarding all the sacrifices which were donated voluntarily, the only instance where Scripture states the word נֶפֶשׁ “soul” is in the case of the meal-offering. Now, who usually donates a meal-offering? A poor man [because flour is less expensive than
birds or animals]. [Hence,] the Holy One Blessed is He, says: “I account if for him as if he has sacrificed his very soul!” - [Menachos 104b]
God says to us lest you think that the wealthy man’s offering is more important than the poor man’s; it is not the value of the offering that matters, it is the feeling, the heart, the emotion you invest that is most important to me. God doesn’t judge successful spiritual service by the girth of the animal you bring, He bases it on the joy and commitment with which you serve.
Imagine if we stop making Bar-Mitzvahs that are full catered affairs and create an incredible amount of social pressure. Perhaps, a beautiful kiddush and then meals for family only? Do we need a full Bo Bayom celebration in additional to a Bar-Mitzvah celebration? Imagine if we accept that weddings should always be family with a few close friends of the families and of the Chosson and Kallah. Do we realize the financial and social pressure we would remove from so many of our brothers and sisters? Do we need to plan a l’chaim, vort and wedding? Save the money (and time) and give it to your children (or keep it and go on vacation or if you are pious give it to charity). I have seen firsthand how simchas become a source of incredible tension for families. It is expensive to be an observant Jew, and most don’t have thousands of dollars lying around to spend on a celebration. But there is pressure. There is pressure from family, community and friends, it’s a pressure to keep up. No one wants to be the person who does things differently. Again, in full disclosure I too have made (and paid) for these extravagant events. I am not advocating for forcing people or enacting communal standards which require people to do or not do certain things. I am a believer in free choice. Every person has the right to make their own decisions and plan their own celebrations. I just feel that we need to start thinking about this now. Because when all of this is over, we will run back to Shul, yeshiva, school and the office and the rhythm of life will once again pick up. But right now, we all feel it - the world is changing, we are changing, something is different.
When all of this is over, I hope I can find the courage to do things differently in many areas of my life.