The clock is ticking and it’s time again for those eight crazy nights of Hanukkah. So this would be an apt time for eight wise Hanukkah insights. Well, maybe not so wise but maybe interesting. Perhaps…
- I never really understood the fascination with latkes. Sure, because of the miracle of the oil we are supposed to eat foods fried in oil – who thought that was a good idea? – but why latkes? They always seemed like glorified hash browns to me. Well, as with everything Jewish, there’s a story behind this: Seems that the Babylonian king Nevuchadnezzer sent his general Holofernes to destroy Jerusalem, and Holofernes decided he wanted to have Judith, daughter of the High Priest, as his bed mate. She agreed and as a gift, brought him latkes for dinner. He got very thirsty and she gave him strong wine. He got good and drunk, fell asleep, and Judith cut his head off, saving her people. Take note this story has nothing to do with Hanukkah, but oh well, it’s a good story so pass the latkes! As for me, I’d prefer fried chicken. (By the way, the latkes Judith made were made of cheese, so I guess we could think of Cheez Doodles as a new Hanukkah food.)
- How come, Jewish composers and songwriters wrote those beautiful Christmas songs that are impossible to escape, yet we, their people, have to sing “I Have a Little Dreidel?” Couldn’t someone write a classy Hanukkah song? Adam Sandler doesn’t count, though his song, now in version 4, has done more for kids’ Jewish identity than Hebrew School.
- Most people know that gift-giving is not an old-time Hanukkah tradition. From the Middle Ages on parents gave their children “gelt” (not to be confused with “guilt”) – money – with which to gamble with the dreidel. But what can we do? Capitalism reigns and God forbid our kids be left out of the gift -receiving frenzy. Just remember, we have more to give than toys and as we give let’s remember the most needy among us.
- The story of Hanukkah centers of the Syrian Greeks who defiled the Temple sanctuary in Jerusalem by putting idols in it and sacrificing pigs on the altar. When Judah and his small militia drove the enemy out of Jerusalem the first thing they did was to purify the Temple sanctuary. In that time, the Temple was thought of as the home of the Divine, so it was comparable to cleaning out the House so that God could return to dwell among the People of Israel. It’s very hard to survive as a spiritual person without having a sanctuary. What are we to do in our era? Perhaps we should take a page from our deepest mystical teaching that says that God’s sanctuary is within us; It’s in our hearts. As the gospel song goes, “O Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true…” So we need to work on purifying our hearts, polishing our souls, and lighting up the world.
- Here a conundrum for you: When Judah came to the Temple all he could find was a little cruse of oil with which to light the menorah, just enough oil for one day. So in an act of faith he lit the menorah and the oil lasted for eight days. That means that the miracle of the oil was only for seven days (you do the math)! So why is Hanukkah eight days? (There’s a fried latke for you if you know the answer.)
- Here’s one thing we can learn from the Maccabees: A small group of people can accomplish great miracles. So when we are overwhelmed with doubt and despondency, we can adopt the attitude that we can make miracles.
- Don’t forget to include family, friends and community in your Hanukkah celebration. The more people we include the more love and light we create. And isn’t that the idea? To make as much light as we can at the time when the days are shortest and the world is darkest?
- Each night when you light the Hanukkah candles, why not dedicate that evening’s candle to a hope you have for yourself, your family, for Israel or for the world? It will make the candle lighting more meaningful and will help us remember that we can make a difference in our world, even if it’s a small difference.