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everything you need to know about hanukkah

1. Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas: Hanukkah and Christmas both occur near the winter solstice. They both feature light and gift-giving.

Yet, they differ in their relative importance and religious messages. Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of Jewish survival in the face of foreign pressure. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. Hanukkah is relatively minor holiday in Judaism. Christmas is highly significant for Christians of all denominations.

2. There is no one Hanukkah story: The most popular explanation of Hanukkah centers around a tiny container of oil that miraculously burns for eight days. This explanation highlights the spiritual legacy of the holiday.

The original story of Hanukkah, however, is found in the ancient Book of Maccabees. It describes a great military victory of the Jewish people over King Antiochus and his army, which was followed by an eight-day celebration. This explanation highlights the military dimension of the holiday.

3. Hanukkah is lots of fun: While every Hanukkah celebration is accompanied by the lighting of candlese, all families celebrate differently. Some give presents each night. Others do different types of community service. Others dedicate each night to teaching about a different period of Jewish history.

4. Hanukkah has special foods: Come into a Jewish home on Hanukkah, and you’ll likely smell fried potatoes. Known as “latkes,” they taste like a cominbation of hashbrowns and tater tots.

In Israel people eat donuts on Hanukkah. The connecting thread is the oil, reminding us of the miracle that occured two thousand years ago.

5. Light is a powerful symbol: Both Hanukkah and Christmas feature light. The Christmas tree is lit up, and Hanukkah candles are kindled evening.

In Judaism light symbolizes God. The candle symbolizes human beings, through whom God brings light to the world.

6. Hanukkah teaches the value of Shalom Bayit, “Peace in the Home.” Song, food and light bring families together. Every generation is engaged and connected.

Children play games, adults cook and teach, grandparents discuss the different ways they have celebrated Hanukkah. The home becomes a miniature temple, a place of sacredness.

7. Hanukkah celebrates religious freedom: The Hanukkah story begins with the Hellenistic rulers of Palestine forcing Jews to abandon their religious practices. The Jewish revolt was motivated by their belief in the right and need to practice their religion freely. Their message continues to inspire those who fight for religious freedom today.

8. There is no one right way to spell Hanukkah: Some people prefer, as I do, Hanukkah with an “H.” Others spell it “Chanukkah.”

The reason for the variety is that no English letter has the exact same sound as the first letter in the original Hebrew word. Every translation and transliteration from Hebrew is an interpretation.

I think this variety is good. Hanukkah celebrates freedom, and we have the freedom to spell it any way we’d like. 

Happy Hanukkah!

hanukkah miracle

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins Saturday evening. For eight nights we light candles and thank God for “the miracle He performed for us.”

Tradition understands that miracle as one miniscule cruse of oil burning brightly for eight consecutive nights. The burning oil rededicated the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, which had been conquered and defiled by the Assyrians.

The Real Miracle

Consider, however, another miracle: The miracle of the spirit that led the Jewish people to search for the cruse of oil in the first place.

They could have given up on their faith. They could have turned away in fear from the Assyrians, who had a much larger and more powerful army. They could have simply accepted the world as it is.

Yet, something in their hearts propelled them forward. They knew they served a purpose much larger than their own survival. They believed not in the world as it is. They believed in the world as it ought to be.

A Leap of Action

Because of their courage, Hanukkah celebrates not only the miracle God did for an ancient people. Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of faith itself.

Faith is not blind obedience. Faith is not even acceptance of the seemingly impossible.

Faith is the courage to live for something larger than ourselves. It is the courage to take a chance, to take a leap of action, to work for what we know is right. That is what our ancestors did. And it is what each of us can do, wherever we are.

By Evan Moffic,

Grow Spiritually. Inspire Yourself. Live a More Meaningful Life.

Get More from Rabbi Moffic http://bit.ly/U6pA1G

 

miracle of music, hanukkah

In a few days we begin the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Hanukkah celebrates an ancient miracle.With their way of life under attack, a small group of Jews challenged their oppressors. They survived and rededicate the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.

As we light the Hanukkah candles for eight nights, we express gratitude for their victory and survival. We also, however, connect the past to the future.

Daily Miracles

One of the prayers traditionally said on Hanukkah thanks God for “miracles You performed for our ancestors and those You perform today.” Saying that prayer always makes me ask about the miracles of today.

What is happening around us that is extraordinary, inspiring, miraculous? Can we find God in the world today in the same way people did 2000 years ago?

Yes we can. The miracles we discover need not be vast or magical. They can simply express the power and possibility of the human condition.

Each of my next several articles will consider a miracle we can experience every day.

The Soul of Music

The first is music. Whatever we love jazz, country or rock-n-roll, music conveys power and emotion. It can transform our heart and inspire millions. Sometimes is miraculous.

Rabbi David Wolpe pointed this out in a passage he highlights from Vasily Grossman’s novel of World War II, Life and Fate:

“People in camps, people in prisons, people who have escaped from prison, people going to their deaths, know the extraordinary power of music. No one else can experience music in quite the same way. What music resurrects in the soul of a man about to die is neither hope nor thought, but simply the blind, heart-breaking miracle of life itself.”

By Evan Moffic,

Get More from Rabbi Moffic http://bit.ly/U6pA1G

Grow Spiritually. Inspire Yourself. Live a More Meaningful Life.


faith police officer

A few years ago a popular bump sticker urged us to practice “random acts of kindness and senseless acts of love.” It’s a nice sentiment.

In Judaism, however, acts of kindness are not random and acts of love are not senseless. They are commandments from God. They are part of the moral structure of the universe. They are holy acts with reverberations beyond our imagination.

God is Everywhere

This lesson was taught most powerfully by a 17th century Jewish mystic named Isaac Luria. Soon after the world was formed, Luria taught, sparks of God spread themselves across it. They landed in flowers, trees, waters and human beings.

As a result, everything and everyone we see or touch contains a spark of God. We uncover those sparks, we release their spiritual power, when we follow God’s commandments. When we bless each other through kindness, through words, through service.

We saw this truth in action last week in New York City. It was captured on video by a tourist with a cell phone.

A police officer approached a homeless man on the street. He lowered himself and offered him a pair of all-weather thermal boots. A shoe store loomed in the background.

The police officer, it was later learned, had purchased the boots with his own money. The homeless man, he reported, “smiled from ear to ear” after getting the boots. “It was like you gave him a million dollars,” he said.

A few days later the video was posted on Youtube and became viral.

Why?

What makes the video so popular and inspiring? I think it is the unexpected nature of the act. We don’t assume to see such an act on the mean gritty streets of New York. We don’t expect them from a tough New York Police Officer.

To see it in such a place by such a man surprises us. It makes us think higher of human nature.

Part of the goal of faith is to cultivate those acts of kindness. To help turn random into habitual, to transform senseless into sacred. It does through through what it asks us to do and believe.

Word and Deed

Consider prayer: part of the reason we pray is to experience gratitude. Gratitude helps us recognize that what we have is not ours alone. It urges us not to take things for granted, not to feel entitled, but to share God’s bounty with others.

Now consider belief: a core belief of Judaism, of almost every religion, is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The definition of “neighbor” is just the person that lives next door. It is our fellow human beings. It is the person lying on the street.

We may not share their religion or ethnicity. But we share their humanity. It is that humanity that draws forth our frequent acts of kindness and sacred acts of love.

By Evan Moffic,

Grow Spiritually. Inspire Yourself. Live a More Meaningful Life. Get Lots More from Rabbi Moffic

http://bit.ly/U6pA1G

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