10 Dec 2015

Hanuka-Mikets 5776: Shadow Worlds

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“Don’t be afraid to see what you see.”
― Ronald Reagan
President Reagan was my ‘first’ president. Although I was born in 1975 and the first six years of my life were during the Carter administration, the first president that I consciously followed was President Reagan. Until my bar mitzvah he was the face and voice of the nation. His closest partner in the world was the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher. They aligned their policies regarding the Cold War and shared a deep distrust of Communism. It could be said that were it not for their steadfast leadership which drew from their moral certitude, the Communist regime might not have had the end that it did.

One could argue, however, that President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher lived and led in a different world than we do now. Theirs was one in which moral and philosophical issues seemed to be more clearly defined.  The foe was evident and positioned behind an ‘Iron Curtain’. It was our side and theirs. Reagan and Thatcher did not hesitate to identify ‘evil’ and ‘enemies’ in their political discourse and the people knew who the good guys and bad guys were.

But when the Soviet Union collapsed and physical boundaries like the Berlin wall fell so did the social and philosophical ideas that were defined by their borders. Gone were the days in which leaders firmly fought for ‘higher values’ and denounced ones that were morally deficient. Value judgements became socio-political taboo. The red and blue landscape of the Cold War turned to countless shades of grey almost overnight and along with it a significant shift towards moral-relativism.

Though it is convenient to divide the world into red and blue we are not always presented with such clearly defined realities. There are subtleties, complexities, varying contexts and perspectives that challenge our ability to accurately ascertain the nature of what is good and evil in the world. At times our ‘vision’ of truth is obscured by the shadows.

Rabbi Moshe Hayim Luzzato writes in his Mesilat Yesharim[1] that there are two kinds of darkness. There is total darkness that renders us sightless and then there is partial darkness that distorts our vision. In the latter type of darkness we might mistake what we see for something else. Of course, the terms ‘light’, ‘dark’ and ‘sight’ can be used as a metaphor. At times there is a darkness that shrouds reality and interferes with our ability to perceive it clearly.

Our hakhamim likened the Greek oppression over the Jewish people during the 2nd century BCE to darkness[2]. This too was of the second kind. The Greeks were confusing to us. Their culture was markedly different from ours but their philosophy rivalled our own. In their philosophy they contemplated and discussed the nature of truth and reality and they explored the value of living an examined life. Their language so closely resembled ours in meaning that the sages allowed a Sepher Torah to be written entirely in Greek[3]; for when translated to Greek the Hebrew terms and words found accurate counterparts. Surely when such principles of life are so similar finding the value of one over the other is not straightforward.

Hanukkah is a celebration of our ancestors struggle for, and discovery of, the light and clarity that helped them differentiate between Jewish and Greek philosophy and culture. It prompted them to risk their lives in order to protect and uphold the value of their Jewishness rather than succumb to the strong Hellenistic force that aimed at erasing it. The light of Hanuka stands as a monument to the bravery needed in order to illuminate the complicated realities that vex us.

Our world continues to move more rapidly towards greater complexity. In the West we have come to shy away from judgements that might assert a notion of holding higher moral or philosophical ideas than others. But if the alternative is a miscellaneous world of shadows our lives and identity will become the same. Hanuka teaches us that we must not only kindle light to banish darkness but also fight for its capacity to shine. And although we may be living in a more complicated world than Thatcher and Reagan, when we succeed in casting the light upon reality, we must not be afraid to see what it reveals and respond with conviction.

Shabbat Shalom and Hanuka Sameah

Rabbi Joseph Dweck


[1] Ch. 5, Helkei haZehirut

[2] Bereshit Rabba, 2:5

[3] Megila, 8b; Mishne Torah, Hilkhot Sepher Torah, 1:19.


Law and Lore

Select Laws of Hanuka

Both men and women over the age of bar/bat misva are equally obligated in lighting Hanuka lights.

The minimum number of lights required each night is one per night. However, we beautify the mitsva by adding a light each night so that on the eighth night there are eight lights burning.

However, since the minimum is one, if for some reason one was unable to light the customary number for a particular night the obligation is fulfilled with lighting just one.

All types of fuel and wicks may be used to light Hanuka lights. However, the choicest fuel is olive oil for that was the fuel used in the Menora of the Bet HaMikdash and it was involved in the miracle.

The requirement to light is a household requirement. Therefore, if someone who is part of the household and over the age of bar/bat misva lit the Hanuka lights appropriately, the obligation is fulfilled for all of the rest of the members of the household no matter where they may be. Thus, the other members may no longer light with a berakha (blessing).

Enough fuel must be set up for the Hanuka lights so that they last for at least 30 minutes. If less fuel was used, the mitsva is not fulfilled. More fuel must be added, and the candles relit without berakha.

It is forbidden to use the light of the Hanuka for any purpose. They may only be seen. Therefore, we place a shamash – a candle for use – with the Hanuka lights so that if they are used by mistake we can say that the light of the shamash was used rather than the Hanuka lights.

Once the lights with the appropriate amount of fuel were lit properly, the mitsva is fulfilled. If they go out early subsequently for other reasons (baring negligence), they need not be relit.   However, one who wishes, may do so without a berakha.

The Hanuka lights may not be moved once they are lit. If they were moved, they must be put out and relit in their new place without a berakha.

The sanctity of the Hanuka lights lasts for 30 minutes after they are lit. After this time, the lights may be used, or put out.

We add the prayer ve’Al HaNisim in every Amida and Birkat HaMazon on Hanuka. If it was forgotten until after G-d’s name was mentioned in the subsequent berakha it is not repeated.

We recite a full Hallel all 8 days of Hanuka. Women are exempt.

We read Sefer Torah all 8 days of Hanuka.


Parasha Perspectives

X Miketz

37a              Yosef (41:1-44:17)
Paro’s dreams (41:1-8);
Yosef is brought to Paro (41:9-14);
Paro retells his dreams to Yosef (41:15-24);
Yosef interprets the dreams (41:24-32);
Yosef suggests a course of action (41:33-36);
Yosef gets the job (41:37-46);
Seven years of plenty. Yosef’s children (41:47-53);
Seven famine years begin (41:54-57);
The brothers first trip to Egypt (42:1-26);
Brothers tell Ya’akov what happened (42:27-38);
Yehuda convinces Ya’akov to let brothers return to
Egypt with Binyamin (43:1-16);
The brothers second trip to Egypt (43:16-44:3);
Brothers pursued, Binyamin found with Yosef’s
goblet.  Back to Egypt for showdown… (44:4-17)

Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS