Monday, December 30, 2019

Not By Might

Not By Might
At Jewish Newport
December 28, 2019
Edited by Beth Ginsburg Levine

Over 30 people enjoyed Shabbat services at Touro Synagogue yesterday. Mostly they were attentive to the Rabbi’s grandson, who joyfully romped around the synagogue. From a child’s eye view, the cushions on the bimah seats are a lot of fun to jump on and pull off. On the way to the ark to see the Torah, the benches in front of the bimah look like a fantastic playground, and much more fun than  the ark, with the opportunity to climb and hang out.

The rest of us had to follow the rules of decorum, shivering a bit in our seats.

The first reference to the miracle of the oil burning for 8 days is in the Talmud, written 600 years after the event. speculates that it was mentioned to provide a supernatural basis for the holiday. Earlier sources for Hanukkah are the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees which are not in the tanakh  but are part of the apocrypha in the Christian bible, and Josephus.

In his words of Torah, Rabbi Marc Mandel told us that the holiday of Hanukkah snuck up on us, and that in the Talmud, the rabbis asked, “What is hanukkah?” It didn’t have biblical roots and was one of the last holidays added to the Jewish calendar. Purim, also a late addition, had the book of Esther. One of the discussions is about how we light the hanukkah menorah? Should we light all the candles on the first day, and then one less each day, or should we start with one candle, and add a candle each day? And since the miracle was that the candles lasted 7 additional days, why don’t we light 7 rather than 8 candles. In the Talmud, a discussion might extend over hundreds of years, so the differences about the ways of lighting the candles are described early on in the Mishnah, but the reasons are discussed much later.

The school of Shammai believed we should start with 8 candles to reflect the way the offerings in the Temple were made on Sukkot (Hanukkah is a delayed Sukkot).  The school if Hillel took the position that one should always add to a mitzvah, and increasing the number of lights was the logical position. As was usual, we follow Hillel. Rabbi Mandel added that we should always try to accomplish more in life and to constantly aim higher.

During Hanukkah we add al hanisim to the Amidah. The short paragraph carefully avoids describing the Hanukkah miracle. We also add full Hallel each day. The great miracle of hanukkah is that God enabled the Jews, under the leadership of the Maccabees, to throw off the yoke of the Syrian Greeks and to restore the defiled Temple. To emphazize the spiritual victory, the hanukkah haftarah (from Zechariah) ends with, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit—said the LORD of Hosts.לֹ֤א בְחַ֙יִל֙ וְלֹ֣א בְכֹ֔חַ כִּ֣י אִם־בְּרוּחִ֔י אָמַ֖ר יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת” This is a warning against hero worship. In Judaism, we are each individually created in the image of God. We are responsible for our own behavior, and are each capable of being heroes.