At Touro Synagogue December 24, 2016
It's just a coincidence!
by Aaron Ginsburg
On Saturday the lone visitor at services was a young man from New York. He is a living symbol of the Jewish journey. His mother is Moroccan and Sephardic. His father is Polish. They settled in Venezuela. The young man grew up in Miami, went to school in Chicago, and got a job in New York. There are still relatives in the old country (Venezuela).
Rabbi Marc Mandel devoted his sermon to the coincidental timing of Hanukah with Christmas.
“Chanukah begins this evening in just a few hours. You probably remember a few years ago when Chanukah fell out on Thanksgiving. Now it's falling out on December 24 the same time that Christmas falls out. Rabbi Benjamin Blech is a teacher at Yeshiva University and he used to be a rabbi in Oceanside, New York. He was contacted by the newspaper USA Today. They asked him, “Is there a message Implicit in the major faiths celebrating the religious traditions at the very same time?”
This evening, as Christians and Jews share a major moment for spiritual reflection, what message can there be for us? Rabbi Blech said, “Jews differ with Christians on many points of theology. We do not agree on crucial issues, on the identity of G-d and the idea of the Messiah. But we do agree that we are bound by a commitment to morality into a life of meaning and purpose.”
During the time of Chanukah, Hellenism preached that life has no purpose-the only thing to do is to eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you will die.
This year, Christians and Jews can mutually celebrate life's meaning and purpose and may we all come together to brighten the world and to create a better and more complete planet. Shabbat Shalom!”
On aish.com Rabbi Blech continued the focus on meaning rather than miracle, “What was at stake in the story of Hanukkah was the survival of the very idea of holiness. Judaism taught that the purpose of life is that life must have a purpose.”
In this analysis Greek culture doesn’t look good. That might be because it was a very appealing rival. Greece not only meant its mythology of gods acting like people, but also literature, science, philosophy and an interest in history. Of course, this was a two-way street. While some Greeks admired the people of the book, others realized that Israel’s approach to life had an appeal and portrayed Judaism very negatively.
What is a coincidence? According to Google It’s “a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.”
Humans have a need to find a pattern. A coincidence is a situation where we can’t discern the pattern. In the Torah, there are no coincidences. If there is no obvious reason for an event, the Almighty must have a message for us. The wisdom of Judaism is its ability to use the message to teach us how to live a purposeful life.
In today’s parsha, Vayeshev, Genesis 37:1 - 40:23, Joseph is imprisoned because of his loyalty to his faith and his employer. Rabbi Ron Fish of Temple Israel, Sharon, Ma compared Joseph’s avoidance of temptations to the story of Chanukah, which is about avoiding the temptations of Hellenism.
While in prison, Joseph interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and his cupbearer. After telling the cupbearer he will be freed, Joseph asks him, “Think of me when all is well with you again, and do me the kindness of mentioning me to Pharaoh, so as to free me from this place.” But, “The cupbearer did not think of Joseph; he forgot him.” There is nothing unusual about a lack of gratitude, but in the Torah nothing happens without a reason. Was Joseph being punished for asking the cupbearer for help rather than trusting in G-d?
Pharaoh had a dream, and the cupbearer remembered Joseph’s ability to interpret. And so began Joseph’s meteoric rise from prisoner to vizier. Was Pharaoh’s dream a coincidence, or a miracle?
Rabbi Mandel said the Haftarah, Amos 2:6 - 3:8, is the only totally negative haftarah. It has no words of comfort.
After chastising Israel for its sins, Amos continues, “When a ram’s horn is sounded in a town, Do the people not take alarm? Can misfortune come to a town If the Lord has not caused it? Indeed, my Lord G-d does nothing Without having revealed His purpose To His servants the prophets. A lion has roared, Who can but fear? My Lord G-d has spoken, Who can but prophesy?”
In the haftarah every event has a cause. The prophet Amos speaks because G-d has spoken. There are no coincidences.
And what of the miracles of Chanukah? When my uncle Arthur Green, z.l., was at Harvard (class of 1922), he wrote a short essay about the real miracle of Hanukah. “The miracle was not,” he wrote, “that the Maccabees defeated the Greeks, or that the pure oil was found, or that the oil lasted for eight days. The miracle is that we still celebrate Chanukah.”
Shabbat Shalom and a Fraylichen Chanukah @tourosynagogue @newportri