Keeping the Light by Rabba Claudia Marbach

December 12, 2018

Hanukkah has come and gone but the darkest days of winter are still ahead. Although one cannot schedule miracles, I sometimes wish that Hanukkah would fall in late January. I need an infusion of light, hope and miracles when winter has dragged on and the white snow has turned grey. How do we hold on to the light for the rest of winter? How do we contain within us the closeness to God symbolized by those little, yet miraculous, lights?

One way is to cultivate the light within. Mishlei 20:27 tells us

נֵר ה’ נִשְׁמַת אָדָם חֹפֵשׂ כָּל־חַדְרֵי־בָטֶן׃  

The candle of God is the soul of a person, revealing all his inmost parts.

The Sefat Emet uses this pasuk to connect the lights of Hanukkah to the candle used to search for chametz before Pesach. (I know that it’s a bit early to think about Pesach, but bear with me!)

Before Pesach we use a candle to search for hidden chametz. The Sefat Emet likens chametz to sins – things we want to expunge. So too, he suggests, we should use the candles on Hanukkah to look for what is hidden and not wanted. He says that when it is dark we need the light even more than usual. While we think of Hanukkah as a  time when we spread the light from inside to outside. By connecting those lights to the search for chametz, the Sefat Emet, urges us to use the lights to inspect the internal, and to illuminate any darkness that we may find there. What should that inspection look like? The Sefat Emet notes that Ner (candle) can be read as an acronym for nefesh + ruach (spirit + soul). We should examine our nefesh and ruach. Three months on, let us reexamine our Rosh Hashanah resolutions and rededicate ourselves to those resolutions. Let us look to the health of our nefesh + ruach. We can use the candles to look internally and carry the light of the Hanukkah candles through the winter.  

After Hanukkah we quickly transition to the fast of Asarah b’Tevet. How strange that we celebrate the dedication of the Temple and only a week later we be thrust into mourning for that same Temple. But those two truths are fundamental to us as Rabbinic Jews. We mourn the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. Yet that destruction was the direct precursor to the rabbinic revolution that made Judaism what it is today—and has us celebrate Hanukkah as a rededication holiday and not a military victory. With the loss of the Beit HaMikdash and subsequent exile, we came to reinterpret the pasuk

וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם׃ (Exodus 25:8)

 And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.

The substitution of the Mikdash became the synagogue. Rav Chaim of Volozhin, in Nefesh haChaim 1:4, said further that God hinted that  

שממנו תראו וכן תעשו אתם את עצמיכם שתהיו אתם במעשיכם הרצויים כתבנית המשכן וכליו. כולם קדושים ראוים ומוכנים להשרות שכינתי בתוככם ממש

That you should know that the purpose of my desire in building the Mishkan … that you should see and then you should create for yourselves with the blueprint of the Mishkan. That you are all holy and can facilitate My truly ‘living within you’.

Rav Chaim says that we carry that Mishkan with us. Another way to keep the lights of Hanukkah burning is to take the memory of the Ner Tamid that shone in the Temple and relight it within us. What does it mean to make a Mikdash inside of ourselves? Surely to make our lives more holy, to dedicate ourselves to our relationship with God — keeping our  inner Mishkan well lit.

Placing the Hanukkah lights to face outward is an essential part of the mitzvah. How do we light up the outside world?  Yeshayahu 58:10 gives us direction on how to spread the light beyond ourselves:

תָפֵק לָרָעֵב נַפְשֶׁךָ וְנֶפֶשׁ נַעֲנָה תַּשְׂבִּיעַ וְזָרַח בַּחֹשֶׁךְ אוֹרֶךָ וַאֲפֵלָתְךָ כַּצָּהֳרָיִם

And if you draw out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall your light rise in darkness, and your gloom be as the noonday…

Yeshayahu says that our lights will shine brighter when we help others who are hungry or afflicted. Like the pirsuma d’nissa of Hanukkah, acts of chesed are a way of spreading the light. The light of one flame is not diminished when it is used to light another. With all the suffering in the world it seems incumbent upon us to share our light.

During the long months of winter to come, we can continue to think about how we all can keep the Hanukkah  lights shining. Let’s keep alive the lights of introspection, holiness and mitzvot and good deeds, within ourselves, our communities and the world around us.

 

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Looking for God in Climate Change posted by Yosef Kanefsky

December 4, 2018

This is personal and self-revelatory. I am sharing it because I think and I hope that it may prove useful.

I am one of those people who has been deeply concerned about climate change since the 1980’s. I have a vivid memory of sitting in the teacher’s lounge in the school at which I was teaching in Elizabeth, NJ in 1987, and asking a fellow faculty member if she’d be willing to give up her car in order to secure an un-climate-changed world for her future grandchildren. She looked at me like I was out of my mind. In a certain way, I guess I was. Yet, here we are.

I have no idea where her grandchildren (if she has any) now live. My grandchild lives in Northern California where, along with millions of other people, she recently breathed “very unhealthful” air for days and days as a result of the tragic and deadly Camp fire. I’m certainly willing to grant that factors other than climate change contributed to the fire, but I’m not willing to grant that climate change was not a significant one. This fire, along with the one that burned just miles from where I live and work, was the latest in a steady global drumbeat of extreme and deadly weather events. Climate change is here.

I have few waking hours these days during which I do not think about this at least once. I am occasionally sad, and I am anxious. Not only about the prospects that await us, but also about the reality that we, the human race, know what’s going on, but are functionally unable to do much about it. Last week’s news that most of the major signatories to the Paris Climate accord are not on track to meet their goals is disappointing, but not really so surprising. (And let’s not even go to the outright denial espoused by our President.)

I am person of religious faith. And a religious “professional” to boot. What do I do now? What do I daven for? How do I act? How do I avoid a state of sad resignation that is both contrary to Jewish faith, and just plain bad for a human living? What are our next steps?

Well, if you are any sort of Maimonidian, you cannot pray that God suck the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere or change the laws of chemistry. God is our beneficent Creator who renews creation daily, but He never changes the underlying rules. You also can’t pray that God compel people to begin to act differently. Free choice is something God doesn’t tamper with. But there are other realms of prayer that we can definitely enter here. The blessings and supplications in our daily davening presume that God does grace human beings with wisdom. And with strength and with courage. Add to this the faith that God is merciful, which is a faith that pervades our prayer, and we have more than enough to start with. We can have the climate change discussion with God.

Davening is a necessary-but-insufficient response though, for any person of religious faith. We always look to back our faith with action. Of course we can and should “green” our personal behavior, our philanthropic behavior, and our political behavior. But there’s something bigger out there to do as well. Something that emerges from the oddly comforting (to me) fact that we are all going to be in this together. All of us. Everybody. And we are all going to need each other in ways that we’ve never needed each other before. Think about the remarkable and inspiring ways in which, over the last 24 months, so many people have expanded their hearts and have gone way out of their way to provide aid and support to hurricane-tossed and fire-singed strangers all over the country.  What we, people of religious faith, need to do now is to actively and intentionally cultivate these bonds of human community and love. For these are the bonds that will mitigate whatever may be coming our way. Opportunities to do this present themselves constantly, really in every human interaction that we have. And they are also out there on much larger scales, available to each one of us, requiring only that we open our eyes to their existence, and have the wisdom, strength and courage, God willing, to energetically pursue them.

There are undoubtedly other ways that people of religious faith can bring the power of that faith to bear on this vast human challenge. This is the moment for all of us who have not yet started, to get going.

I hope this wasn’t “too much information” about my personal emotional state. For whatever it’s worth, just sharing it makes me feel a little better. And it is my hope that, as the old Jewish adage goes, “words that emanate from the heart, enter the heart”.