Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thoughts on Chanukah

As I sit here trying to write a post about Chanukah, a number of things come to mind: Menorah, candles, light, dreidels, Chanukah gelt, presents, latkes, miracles, Maccabees. If I had to sum up Chanukah in two words, though, it would not be any of those. However, before I get there, I am easily distracted by three videos, which you probably have already seen at least one of, since they have been widely circulated:

1. The Maccabeats' new video, “Candlelight,” a parody of the Mike Tompkins version of the song “Dynamite,” which has hit over 100,000 views in less than 5 days.
2. The Six13/ NCSY Chanukah Video.
3. Aish’s Charlie Harary video about Chanukah entitled, “Chanukah’s Secret to Greatness.”

Now that I got that out of the way, here are some of my thoughts this Chanukah:

• I find it interesting that both the Maccabeats and Six13/NCSY videos feature covers of secular songs, considering the entire point of Chanukah was to fight the slow assimilation which began with the incorporation of Greek ideas and culture, which are against Torah values, into the Jewish world. This is a great demonstration of our ability to take what is secular and uplift it and make it religious. We are so lucky that we are not forced to assimilate, that today it is possible to be a part of secular society (to a certain extent anyway) while still holding strong and remaining true to Torah values.

• Thinking about sufganiot, I noticed how they are the opposite of regular donuts. Most donuts (Entenmanns, Dunkin Donuts etc.) are all about the outside circle, with a hole in the middle. Sufganiot, on the other hand, feature a filling inside the donut. Perhaps this is indicative of the secular focus on the external and on appearances, versus the Jewish approach of who a person is on the inside. Don’t judge a donut by its cover.

If I were to sum up my view of Chanukah in two words, it would be: Potential and Faith (or rather, since Hebrew has the more accurate connotation of what I’m trying to say, Koach and Emuna.) Both of those aspects are connected to the fact that the main symbol of Chanukah is the Menorah/candles/light. Rabbi Akiva Tatz (and others) writes that time is not linear, but rather circular, and that certain times of year contain different potentials. This explains the idea that Avraham kept Pesach, which seems impossible since Pesach is a holiday to commemorate the exodus from Egypt which had not yet occurred. (Speaking of whether the Avot kept Torah, and speaking of videos that are being widely circulated, if you haven’t seen this one, check it out.) Springtime, the time of Nissan, has potential for redemption and freedom. Which is why I don’t believe it is coincidence that the State of Israel was established in 1948 around Pesach time. This theory also explains why the two Batei Hamikdash were destroyed on the exact same day. The months of Tamuz and Av have often been bad times for the Jewish people- it is inherent in that time period.

So what is the potential for this time of year? It is a time of seeing light through darkness. Which is why I find it very interesting that Christmas lights are everywhere. This time of year is strongly tied to the idea of light. Now more than ever is a time to focus on hope amidst despair, of finding direction and clarity amidst confusion. Sometimes life is dark and you don’t know which way to go, or sometimes we forget. Sometimes life is dark and it seems like things will never be good again. All it takes is a small flame. We have the ability to light up the darkness. How? The Torah is compared to light and fire. Through Torah we can find our way. That is why to me, Chanukah means: Potential. The potential to hold on to hope, to light up the darkness.

And as I listen to Miami Boys’ Choir’s, “Light Up the Nights,” as I do each year around Chanukah time, I think about the candles, flames, and fire. Fire is great because it provides both light and warmth, two things that are lacking in the winter months. Fire is another symbol of “potential,” as it has the potential to be positive- to be used for heat, warmth, for light, and for cooking and baking food. Yet fire also has the potential to be destructive, to burn, to be used in a negative way. And since I can relate everything to shidduchim, I’ll note that it is interesting that the way to create fire is to rub two items together, for example the match and the matchbox. Fire is when two come together as one. This is evident in the names for man and woman- Ish and Isha. If you take out the “yud” from “Ish,” you get Aish, Fire, and if you take out the “Heh” from “Isha” then you get Aish, Fire. The Yud plus the Heh is Hashem’s name.

The second word that I use to describe Chanukah, faith/emunah, is also quite connected to the idea of light in the darkness. When things are dark and cold and dreary, it sometimes seems like things will never get better. Just imagine the Jewish people before the miracle of Chanukah. Things were bad, there were terrible decrees, Jews were being persecuted, and the holy Beit Hamikdash was defiled. Things must have seemed hopeless. But the Jews believed in Hashem, they had faith that He would save them, despite all odds, even though it seemed impossible. And Hashem made a miracle for them. Hashem lit up the darkness. Chanukah is all about how Hashem can always save us from any situation, and light up the darkness for us.

On this Chanukah, may we all be zoche to light up the darkness, to have clarity, to hold on to hope and not fall into despair, to develop and maintain deep, unshakable faith in HaKadosh Baruch Hu and to absorb all of the important messages that Chanukah has to teach us.


  1. wow! This truly an inspiring post. You touch on so many different topics and weave them together quite masterfully. Have a lichtegen freilechen Chanukah!

  2. retweet this one if you like. it's the younger hip hop version. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhulTPLd4rc

  3. LAS - your post about the music is precisely the sort of thing that separates the yeshivish orthodox and MO/YU crowd. The yeshivish crowd views this song as the first step to assimilation. Why are we taking goyish songs and trying to make them ours?(This depite many of them enjoying the song.) Many years ago there was a tremendous outcry against Piamenta for his Asher Bara. (At the time nobody realized that MBD's Yidden was Genghis Kahn). Yeshivish people try and make gedarim and keep the secular out of the religious world as much as possible. Not bring it in and try to make it more jewish - rather than increase exposure. A more yeshivish post would have your beginning of " I find it interesting that both the Maccabeats and Six13/NCSY videos feature covers of secular songs, considering the entire point of Chanukah was to fight the slow assimilation which began with the incorporation of Greek ideas and culture, which are against Torah values, into the Jewish world," but would end - I find it sad that 2500 years later we are giving up what we fought so hard for and are allowing the goyish world creep into ours.

  4. Anon 99

    Thank you for commenting! Just shows how there are two sides to every coin. I try to see the positive side, though I agree with you partially and would have been happier if the Maccabeats were publicizing a more Jewish song. The question of how much of the secular world to let in is a complicated one. I don't believe that the entire secular world is bad, just the parts that take us away from Hashem, which often includes secular music, but not always. There are parts of the secular world that bring us closer to Hashem. And it is not the same for all people- something that brings someone far away from Hashem may not do so for someone else.

    The Maccabeats' song has brought Chanukah into the homes of Jews where Chanukah is barely mentioned, and made many Jews proud to be Jewish. It connected people to Judaism. We as Jews are supposed to bring Hashem's presence into the world more. I think it is great for religious to have positive media coverage.

    I agree that we need to be careful about how much of the secular world we let in, but we have to do everything we can to connect Jews to Judaism and to bring them closer to Hashem. And I believe that the Maccabeats' video accomplished that.


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