They say that all rabbis have only one sermon. If you’re lucky you have two, but when you look at the second it’s almost always an extension or variation on the first. Growing up, my Rabbi’s one sermon was God is everything. Sometimes it was God is everywhere, a subplot of the main idea. After five and a half years of being a rabbi, I realize that mine is “Let no one remain a stranger.” That’s my sermon, that’s my Torah, that’s my truth and my message to the world.
Eternal light in the ancient Temple symbolized an uninterrupted connection between God and the people. When the Romans desecrated the Temple that connection was ruptured, but when the menorah was re-kindled with the tiniest amount of remaining oil, the light did not go out, lasting until new oil could be rendered. The miracle was an event of great comfort in the time of the Maccabees, and can be, to us, in our own time. The deep miracle of Chanukah is that, despite profound breaches, the flow of divine energy into our world does not cease.
The holiday of Hanukkah should be a fraught one for American Jews. Most of us know it as a gift-giving holiday, oriented towards our children, and we like to focus on its religious aspect as a holiday of religious freedom. And it is those things.
Interfaith marriage is in the Jewish news again — just like it was in 500 BCE, as Jews returned from exile in Babylonia. During this time of cultural transition (c. 538-424 BCE), all Jewish leaders recognized the issue. Five biblical books record five different views.
With the flurry of discussion about how Jewish and interfaith families are handling the confluence of Hanukkah and Christmas this year, I’m here to say “chill out.” As a rabbi whose job is to engage with and support interfaith families, I’m well aware that this time of year may create angst for interfaith couples as well as their parents and relatives. I’m not dismissing or diminishing the very real emotions that are tied up with these holiday celebrations. What I do want to say is that we don’t need to feel concerned, anxious, or afraid.
Spirituality is biography. Jewish spirituality and Jewish biography both demand a duty to speak out, reject silencing, and stand up against any power that would silence another. Such is the call of Hanukkah and this moment of meaning for Jewish life.
Last night our congregation’s chant meditation group met to contemplate light as we arrived at the cusp of the darkest day of the year and looked ahead to the festival of Hanukkah. Many of us in our community have been struggling to see bright times ahead or feel optimistic about what may lie ahead in the USA and beyond as we enter 2017. So the meditation, the inspiration of people chanting together in harmony, and the kavvanot (intentional teachings) that interspersed the chanting provided some timely inspiration and a reminder of ways that we can sustain our own light when we feel we are in darker times.
It is the season of latkes, which means you will hear many arguments over which condiment is the best to accompany your latkes – sour cream or applesauce. They appear to be as different from one another as two things can be, and yet, they both compliment the latke and make it taste delicious.
The Book of Genesis is nothing if not a story of dysfunctional families.
Hanukkah is a time for celebrating the power of light to dispel darkness, so this year I’m setting aside the Maccabees of old, in favor of a thoroughly American and timely Hanukkah story.