Tuesday, December 16, 2014

As We Light the First Candle of Hannukah

Tonight Jews across the world begin an eight-day celebration to mark the victory of the Maccabbees over persecution, destruction of sacred places, and the horrid discriminatory practices of Antiochus that threatened the very life of our ancestors in so many palpable ways. We celebrate their bravery but not their bravado! In the moments of our joy, it is incumbent upon us to remember that as their own trajectory continued, the Maccabbees later lose their own focus and fade from history.

While songs will be sung, Latkes and Sufganiot baked and eaten (oh the cholesterol that lasts as long as the oil in the Temple!), gifts exchanged, lights lit and admired, it is incumbent upon us as ethical and caring Jews to consider the too-many unrighteous wars waged in our world that are precisely about persecuting others and taking away what we consider the basic right of practice.

The reprehensible massacre of 132 children in Peshawar today, the hostage situation in Sydney earlier this week and the other (way too many) incidents of ongoing and unbridled hatred we continue to see in our world is beyond understanding and will definitely cloud the joy of Hannukah for me tonight. We as Jews are taught that we cannot and do not celebrate the loss of life, similar to the outcry from the Hindu world today at the loss of their most precious children. That is why we diminish our cups of wine on Pesach as we recall simultaneously the miracle of the Ten Plagues as well as the necessary loss of life because of them, which we solemnly recall. And yet, there are too many of those who do celebrate exactly this excessive force for what they call “righteous causes” all around us in our world today with personal calls of “jihad” (without the requisite authority, it must be remembered) and so much else.

I often explain that we have to be careful in teaching about the Maccabbees and the other wonderful story of miraculous victory for Jews that we celebrate in just as many colorful and joyful ways in Purim. If we have to fight a battle for our own well-being and protection it is to be done in moderation and with restraint, never losing site of the “other’s” suffering. While many will disagree with me, I always hope and pray that Medinat Yisrael and her leaders would hold her to the same standard; and I do believe that this is the case most of the time. Our foundational beliefs tell us to do so. We are to defend life and to respect others and their lives simultaneously. This is not the religious teaching of extremists who scream way too loud and get recognition on the front page too often in our world today.

Let us remember not to forget our need to discipline ourselves and fight for truly righteous causes in terms of our beliefs; not those that are declared in a sense of self-righteousness. Hanukkah can teach us and remind us about restraint as well as victory for noble causes.

Hag HaUrim Sameach!

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