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December 2, 2016  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Find ways to enhance meaning of Hanukkah

By RABBI DANIEL TREISER Temple B’nai Israel, Clearwater

Undoubtedly, Hanukkah is one of the most joyous festivals in our calendar. It is a time to be aware of miracles that surround us, as we remember the miraculous victory of the Maccabees, as well as recall the Talmudic legend of the miracle of oil. We light our hanukkiah on 8 consecutive nights and eat latkes, we spin the dreidel and we exchange presents with friends and loved ones. Yet according to tradition, it is only a ‘minor’ festival. It is not even mentioned in the Bible; its story can be found in the Books of the Maccabees, a part of the Apocrypha (a post-Biblical collection of ‘semiholy’ writings,) where we find nothing about the story of the oil. The most ‘important’ part of the story is missing from its historical text.

I’ve often said that Hanukkah is perhaps one of the most ‘ironic’ Jewish holidays as well. In the story, the Maccabees’ revolt was not just against their Greek/Assyrian oppressors, but also against the Hellenized Jews who had assimilated into the Greek lifestyle. Their battle was one to preserve Jewish community against the forces of assimilation, to maintain a Jewish presence in a larger cultural atmosphere. Yet today, our practice of Hanukkah is almost entirely derived through assimilation. Presents have nothing to do with Hanukkah. While there may have been some custom of giving a bit of gelt to children so they could play dreidel, (itself a symbol of assimilation: the dreidel was a 14th Century German gambling game that we “gave” Jewish meaning,) the excessive gift-giving today is thanks to the gift industry that promotes Black Friday even before Thanksgiving. The overlap of Hanukkah and Christmas on the calendar this year only reinforces for me the loss of meaning for this holiday.

So I think we need to reclaim the importance of this festival with a little preparation and rededicate Hanukkah to a celebration of our values and imbue it with meaning. We can enhance our celebration each night by adding something special when lighting the hanukkiah in addition to, or better yet, instead of, exchanging gifts. Here are 8 suggestions for values we can assign to each night, activities or discussions, to add meaning to your celebration:

Hachnassat Orchim – Welcoming the Stranger. Invite a guest, someone who may be alone for the holiday, to join you in lighting the menorah. Or, invite non-Jewish friends and share the true story of the holiday.

Tzedakah – Righteous Giving. Make a donation to a worthy charity instead of purchasing presents for this night. Decide as a family where it should go, and discuss ways to give tzedakah together throughout the year.

Kibud Av Va’Em – Honoring our Parents. Discuss how each of us, regardless of age, can fulfill this mitzvah every day.

Talmud Torah – Study. A real gift for your family. Tonight, dedicate yourselves to studying some Jewish subject together in the coming year, or maybe find a Jewish book you can read together.

Ba’al Tashchit – Not Being Wasteful. How can we as a family conserve precious natural resources?

Kavod Atzmi – Self Pride. What are the times I/we feel most proud to be Jewish?

G’milut Chasadim – Acts of Loving Kindness. How can we show kindness to others? What can we do together and individually?

Tikkun Olam – Repairing the World. What can we do as a family to make the world a better place?

These are just a few ideas for how we can add meaning to each night of Hanukkah. With a bit of creativity, the Festival of Lights can be imbued with even more meaning and value.

My family joins with me in wishing everyone a Chag Urim v’Sameach – A Bright and Joyous Holiday.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board. The views expressed in the column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Press or the Board of Rabbis.

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