Hanukkah brings out the crazy in our people… Let me tell you how I explained it for my column on The Jewish Herald Voice’s December 15, 2016 edition.
Rosh Hashanah: food; Sukkot: food; Tu B’Shevat: food; Purim: food; Passover: food. Wait, what happened to Chanukah!? Sorry to disappoint you, but while eating latkes and donuts is a nice custom, there’s no mitzvah to eat on Chanukah. The mitzvah of Chanukah is to light the menorah on each of the eight nights. No, it’s not that the Rabbi’s who instituted Chanukah hadn’t tried your Bubbie’s latke recipe. I’m sure they would have loved it!
However, food got left out intentionally because Chanukah’s message goes well beyond the physical. Chanukah is all about the spiritual. In fact, Chanukah is about Jews going absolutely crazy over the spiritual.
The battle the Syrian-Greeks waged on the Jewish people was a spiritual one, not a physical one. The Syrian Greeks did not want to annihilate us. They did not even want us to convert. They simply wanted to Hellenize us – to make the Jews more “like them.” They valued human development and progress, intellect and self-improvement. They had no problem with us as a culture – as a people with a rich history and tradition. They even admired us and appreciated the Torah – as a fascinating intellectual exercise and a fabulous history book.
Their argument went something like this, “You Jews are so smart. But, could you ease up a bit? You don’t have to be so crazy about things, especially when they don’t make sense! Use your minds! Get with the program!” Yeah, well, apparently they underestimated our degree of… ehem…crazy.
Our people’s connection to Torah and observance of Judaism, goes beyond intellect and reason. Jews follow the Torah, even when we can’t understand it – just because it is G-d’s will. And that level of crazy, the Greeks could not stand!
The Syrian-Greeks specifically forbade those mitzvot that go beyond logic and reason, the chukim (ie. Bris Milah, Kosher, Kiddush HaChodesh, and others). These are mitzvot that G-d commanded to the Jewish people and that cannot be explained rationally. No matter what the sophisticated and cultured world says about the perceived physical and/or psychological benefits of Jewish observance, we keep these mitzvot just because G-d said so. Crazy!
Do Jewish mothers think, “I just reduced my son’s likelihood of prostate cancer by x%. I’m such a great mom,” when they hand over their tiny newborn to have his bris, or when they’re up three nights in a row cleaning bloody gauze on their tiny infant’s body? Nope. It’s crazy. It’s beyond reason.
When a Jew committed to the mitzvah of kashrut (keeping kosher) is on a 20 hour journey to Asia and the airlines forgot the kosher meals, does the Jew think, “Oh well, I’m so happy that I can keep a healthy diet. Keeping kosher is so good for my body.” Nope. It’s crazy. It’s beyond reason.
When the boss complains because his Jewish employee will miss an important meeting that falls on Yom Kippur, does the Jewish employee say, “No problem. I’ll just fast and go to shul to pray all day tomorrow instead…?” Nope. It’s crazy. It’s beyond reason.
Deliberate in their attack on the Jewish people, the Greeks didn’t destroy our Temple. They went for the oil. But, instead of destroying or emptying the flasks of oil, they just broke flasks’ seals of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). Thus, they mocked the Jewish concepts of taharah and tumah – loosely translated as “spiritual purity” and “spiritual impurity.” Well-versed in Judaism, the Greeks knew that the Jews would consider flasks of oil with a broken seal, as tameh (“spiritually impure”) and thus, no longer fit to be used in the Temple’s menorah.
Now, last I checked, olive oil looks pretty much the same no matter what bottle it comes in. Oil that is tahor (“spiritually pure”) and oil that is tameh (“spiritually impure”) is exactly the same! On a physical level, that is. Yet, Jewish observance and commitment goes beyond the physical. We are committed to spirituality, even when we can’t grasp it with our intellects. We are ehem… crazy.
We could have used the defiled oil. But, we didn’t. Furthermore, even when we found one flask of oil whose seal was intact (ie. still tahor), and knowing that it would not be enough to light the menorah, we still only used that one flask of oil. I told you. We’re crazy.
This level of Jewish craziness is what brought about the miracle which we celebrate until today. After our demonstration of crazy commitment, G-d rewarded us with the miracle of the oil lasting eight days. Thus, today, we light the menorah on the eight nights of Chanukah to publicize the miracle – a testament that we are a people committed to G-d’s laws to the point of crazy.
This Chanukah let’s take the message of the Chanukah lights to heart – one about a commitment to spirituality beyond latkes and donuts. Let’s reflect on an area of our Jewish observance where we could use a little crazy. Let’s commit to a mitzvah, even when it is still beyond our intellectual comprehension.
May we all tap into our crazy inner selves, and may G-d continue to bestow upon us blessings and miracles this Chanukah and beyond… Happy (Crazy) Chanukah!
This article first appeared on The Jewish Herald Voice, Dec. 15, 2016 Edition
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