Monday, December 19, 2011

Chanukah: The Last-Minute Chag

A Facebook friend posted this week: "OK, have to get Chanukah gifts TOMORROW. This is just way too last-minute." This prompted an extensive shopping-related discussion that didn't much interest me (apparently, you can't order gifts online at the last minute and expect them to arrive on time) – but it got me thinking two things: (1) I too must get my kids something for Chanukah and (2) The whole holiday seems very last minute. I'll explain.
We all know the story well. The Jews beat the Greeks. They arrived in the Beit Hamikdash to find only one small cruse of oil untarnished by their idol-worshiping tormentors. So, with no other option, they lit the Menorah which miraculously lasted a full eight days. It's a great story. But it's got some holes.
First of all, did they really have no idea that they'd soon conquer the Greeks? Was the victory really that sudden? Perhaps it was, but it stands to reason that at some point – perhaps a week or two before their final victory – the Jews got a sense that the war was turning in their direction, and that they'd have to rededicate the Beit Hamikdash. Did no one think to prepare some oil in advance so that they'd be ready to rededicate the Temple?
Let's ask another famous question about the story: Why didn't they wait for enough oil? Why did the Chashmonaim consider it so essential to light the Menorah that they needed to light right away, without having the proper amount of oil in advance? Couldn't they wait just another week?
The answer, of course, is that they could not – and that's precisely the point. The Chashmonaim predicated the entire Chanukah war on a faith that not only drove them to rebel against the Greeks, but also compelled them to specifically not worry about the oil, and light the Menorah with what they had as soon as they possibly could.
In the very first section of his monumental work on Jewish thought called Kad HaKemach, Rabbeinu Bachya, explaining the fundamental nature of Emunah writes,
וכן מצינו אליהו שהיו כל דבריו חכמה מקובלת מאנשי החכמה והאמונה שבאר ואמר (איוב לד) כי עיניו על דרכי איש וכל צעדיו יראה. (שם) אין חשך ואין צלמות להסתר שם פועלי און. ומתוך אמונת ההשגחה יגיע אדם לאמונת הנבואה והתורה שיאמין כי יצא מאת הבורא יתעלה שפע ההשגחה אל האדם עד שיתנבא ותנתן תורה על ידו, והתורה הזאת הצלחת נפשו של אדם, בה יושע תשועת עולמים בה ילמד ליישר מעשיו ועמה ידע דרכי החיים בכל פרטי פעולותיו...
We find that Elihu – whose words were all wise, received from men of wisdom and faith explained and said, "For God's eyes are upon the ways of a man, and He sees all his goings. There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves." (Iyyov 34:21-22) And, from faith in divine oversight a person will arrive at faith in prophecy and the Torah; that he will believe that from the exalted Creator emanates the flow of oversight to man, until he prophesizes and Torah is given through him. And this Torah is the salvation of man; through it he will be eternally saved; through it he will learn to straighten his deed, and with it he will know the paths of life in all details of his actions…
Interestingly, Rabbeinu Bachya compares one with a lack of faith to a person in darkness, and a person who has a sense of Emunah to a person who basks in the light of God.
Intuitively, we know this to be true. Have you ever taken a walk, at night, in the complete darkness? A couple years back on vacation in the Golan, the hotel took us for a night tour of a local ruin. While some found it fun to feel their way through the pitch black, I hated it. I found trying to find my way through the woods in the darkness a dangerous and off-putting. Each step brings a possible hazard, and you're never sure of your footing. But, as soon as someone shone a light ahead, enough to see just a little, I could walk with a degree of confidence.
Life is very much like that. How are we to know where the next step will lead us? Who's to say that we're walking in the right direction, taking the proper steps in life? That's where Emunah plays such a critical role. It's the candle of light that gives us the strength to take any steps at all. With confidence of the light of our faith, we do what we are commanded in the knowledge that when we do what God asks of us, He will, in His wisdom, light the way forward.
When we recite the Al Hanisim on Chanukah, we must marvel at the sheer insanity of the Chashmonaim: רבים ביד מעטים is an understatement. In reality it was the armed in the hands of the unarmed; the trained in the hands of the untrained; they literally had no chance. But they attacked nonetheless, from frustration and desperation, but also from a deep sense of faith which carried them to victory. Had they worried about the future – about military battle lines, and arms strength, not only would they have lost. They would never have fought in the first place.
That's precisely why they didn’t worry about provisions for lighting the Menorah before they conquered the Beit Hamikdash, and also why they wouldn't wait to kindle the lights for enough oil. They lit – and if God wanted it to last a day, it would. And if He wanted it to last longer, that could happen as well.
Chanukah represents a holiday of faith over logic; of placing our fate in God's capable hands, especially when the outcome is far from clear. Perhaps then, Chanukah might very well be the most important, relevant holiday for a Jewish people struggling to rebuild the State of Israel. Today, the drumbeat that we hear constantly from well-meaning Jews (both Israeli and American) who favor returning land to the Palestinians rests on a patently logical argument: Israel wants to be democratic, but it controls the lives of over a million Arabs. It can't annex the land because then Israel might not remain a Jewish State, but it won't withdraw from the land either. What then, is the endgame?
It's a great question to which there's no visible solution. And that's what troubles people, so they insist on solutions (like giving away parts of Eretz Yisrael) that the Torah forbids. "Well," they ask, "if you don't like my solution, what's yours? How do you solve the problem?"
To tell you the truth, I don't have an answer that will satisfy them, because we're approaching the problem from very different places. They think that they have to have the problem solved on their own. I, on the other hand, know what I must do, and trust that He who solved our problems in the past, will properly solve our complicated problems in the future.
This is the light of Emunah that we must kindle in our homes each night on Chanukah. (What Oleh moves to Israel because it makes sense? We did it because it was what we were supposed to do.) We must rededicate ourselves to not only living lives of greater faith, but worrying less about how it will all end up. No, I'm not advocating not buying presents for the kids in advance. God's not going to do that for you. But we must continue to do that which we know is right, with the faith and confidence that the light of our Emunah will shine down upon us, showing us that we did indeed walk along the true and proper path.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Halachic, Philosophical, and Educational Approaches to Social Justice

Rav Yaakov Margalit – Continuing Education Department,
Orot Israel College, Rechovot Campus

Every year, Orot Israel College organizes assorted conferences devoted to the intersection of Torah, private and public life, and the educational system.
In Tishrei, Orot held one such symposium at our Rechovot campus, entitled “Halachic, Philosophical, and Educational Approaches to Social Justice.”

The first speaker was Rav Yaakov Ariel shlit”a, Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan, who described the ideal State of Israel, which must be based on the values of justice and tzedakah (charity). He explained that he was not referring to tzedakah as a voluntary matter but rather as a public responsibility. Indeed, this form of tzedakah was practiced in Jewish communities throughout the generations and has clear manifestations in Jewish law - including the matanot kehunah (the tithes and other gifts given to the kohanim), the matanot aniyim (the various gifts given to the poor), the communal tzedakah funds, and more.
Rav Ariel encouraged the audience to join the social protests and insisted that they need not be concerned about the foreign motives which may perhaps be behind some of the protests. Furthermore, he declared that we must allow our well-defined, ideological, and Torah-based voices to be heard and that we must demonstrate a willingness to improve society and not merely make demands on the State.

After Rav Ariel completed his talk, Rav Shlomo Ishon shlit”a, head of the Keter Institute for Economy According to Torah, discussed the State’s social justice obligations, such as regulating the prices of essential goods, combatting profiteering, and so on. Rav Ishon contrasted the poverty line, as defined by the Western world and Israel’s bituach leumi (literally, national insurance – i.e. social security), with the Jewish alternative, which requires society to ensure that every person’s basic needs are met in a dignified and respectful manner.

Professor Rav Neriah Gutel, President of Orot Israel College, delivered the next lecture. He observed that the Torah deliberately refrained from establishing a categorical social-economic doctrine, because according to the Torah, social-economic policies must conform to each generation’s specific circumstances, location, and era. Yet, at the same time, Jewish law delineates a value system which must serve as the foundation for society’s social-economic principles. Halachah endorses neither predatory capitalism nor radical Marxist collectivism. Instead, the Torah advocates a measured, moderate approach, which accounts for a particular generation’s needs and concerns.

Finally, Rav Yaakov Margalit, the conference’s organizer, focused on the protests’ educational aspects. Are there any red lines which cannot be crossed? If so, what are they? Is the demand for social justice based on a sense that individual people are being mistreated, or does the protest stem from a feeling of social responsibility? How does this impact the type of protest involved? Must those who head the protests serve as role models?

In conclusion, the conference goers walked away with much food for thought, and all agreed that they are looking forward to our next conference, which is scheduled to take place during the month of Nissan.

Its Zionism Y'all: Bringing Israel to the South

By Jaqueline Rose (Gray)
Bogeret of BZ 5753

In the summer of 2010, myself, my husband and our four children moved from our home in Modiin to Atlanta, Georgia for שליחות. My husband is a teacher and so the decision to go on שליחות was about giving something back to a community in the diaspora. We also thought it would be an amazing experience for us as a family - the opportunity to live in a different country, met different people and visit places that we would not normally get a chance to see.

We were sent by הסוכנות היהודית as שליחים מורים and have spent the past 15 months in Atlanta working at Greenfield Hebrew Academy and Young Israel of Toco Hills shul. I have been providing Hebrew enrichment and support to 1-8th grade students, together with giving yoga and environmental education classes to gan age kids. My husband has been teaching 7th and 8th grade Kodesh and History of Israel - his area of expertise! Shabbat is no time for rest as my husband is also Youth Director in the local Young Israel shul, organizing youth tefilla in the morning and Bnei AKiva in the afternoon. Being שליחים is a 7 days a week job!! We have worked very hard devoting ourselves to the community that brought us here, and trying to ensure that our שליחות has meaning and purpose by being an example to the community of what is means to be a religious Jew with Israel as a core value.
Despite the hard work, we are having a wonderful time here. We have been welcomed into the community with open arms and have made really good friends. Most importantly our children have integrated well and made amazing friends, having none of the social challenges you worry about as a parent. We have made sure to make the most of every Sunday, vacation, and family outing. We have enjoyed all the small things that make America such a fun place to be - Starbucks and Target to name a few!
But not a day goes by when we don’t miss Israel. During my year at Orot (1992-93) my love for Israel developed into an ideology, a life path, a passion. I meet and learned with people who had a deep love and respect for Israel and the Jewish people, and the way they lived their lives inspired me to want to live by those values. I knew that there was nowhere else that I wanted to live my life and raise a family. Five years after leaving Orot, I left my home town of London for Israel. I still remember how I cried the whole 4.5 hour flight, but once I landed at Ben Gurion I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I had done what I promised myself I was going to do – I had made aliya.

Today, it is hard being away from our house that we built, our family and friends, relaxing Fridays when you DON’T come home from work and have to cook for Shabbat in two hours, and the sense of being part of a national community. Soon we will return to Israel. I do not under estimate how hard it will be to leave here, for myself and my husband, for our children. Even though we always knew this was temporary it's still hard to leave a place that you have invested time and energy, and made every effort to be part of the community. But once we touch down at Ben Gurion I know that I will have the same feelings I had when I made aliya - I am home, and as we all know “there is no place like home”!