Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stop and Smell the Redemption

Just returned from the Temple Mount. I was in a hurry, rushing around the mount. When we reached the eastern side, facing what was once the entrance to the holy sanctuary, the 2 police who were escorting me stopped and said, "Why does everyone stop here?" I quickly explained and kept moving. They stopped me again and said, "Maybe you could stop for a moment and give us a few words of Torah about the Temple and Hanukah?

I was so ashamed of myself. When they asked the first question I should have talked their ears off. Sometimes we make judgments about people based on their appearance. Two cops with shaved heads and no kippot. I assumed that the most they wanted from me was to get me off the mountain as quickly as possible. You never know who you're talking to. You never know when a Jew's inborn thirst for Torah is going to manifest itself. May we always have a fountain of Torah at our disposal and be ready to pour it freely!

Hanuka Sameach,


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Shouting to the Darkness

Every year we are asked, “Why do you celebrate Chanukah?” and/or “Are you Jewish?” I understand people’s curiosity. I even understand that they may think it’s a little weird. Heck, I even think it’s a little weird that I’m not Jewish and I celebrate Chanukah. But like I tell my kids, sometimes weird is good. It means you’re not following the norm. And more often than not these days, it’s the norm that’s becoming weird. Since the question keeps coming up, I thought I would write a little ditti about why we celebrate Chanukah.

CNN is airing a show called 2010 CNN Heroes: An All Star Tribute. Even though it’s CNN, I like shows about everyday people who are heroes. More acknowledgment needs to be given to people who go out of their way to make a positive difference in this world. Chanukah is a time for acknowledging heroes. It’s a time for me to remind my children that the biggest heroes and the people worth looking up to are those who fight for just causes.

Chanukah is a story about a group of underdogs fighting for a just cause: the honor of God and religious freedom. It is a story about people fed up with oppression and finally doing something about it. Think American Revolution. Chanukah is a story of triumph over evil, of light driving away darkness.

Every time I reread the history of Chanukah, I’m astounded at how oppressed the Jews were. I think many people fail to realize how much freedom had been taken from the Jews. The Greeks weren’t satisfied to just rule over the Jews, they wanted to change the Jew’s very essence. They wanted the Jews to think like them and to live like them. Yet, many Jews resisted becoming like “the nations” hence the Greeks got a bit ticked off and brutally oppressed them where it hurt the most; at the heart of their spiritual beliefs. Women who insisted that their sons be circumcised were killed along with their babies. Brides were forced to sleep with Greek officers before they could be with their husbands. Jews were required to sacrifice pigs to the Greek gods. Studying the Bible and Sabbath observance became a capital crime. And a statue of Zeus was erected in the Temple.

Finally, someone decided to fight back. One family, led by the father and then by one of his sons, stood between the mighty Greek army and the conquest of the spiritual essence of the Jews. The family was the Hasmoneans, and the son was Judah Maccabee. Led by Judah Maccabee, which means hammer, the Jews fought for their religious freedom. The military victory by a ban of Jews against the most powerful army of the day was quite a feat to say the least. In fact there is a statue of Judah Maccabee at West Point to commemorate the outstanding military victory. After years of fighting, the climax came when the Jews finally took back the Temple and rededicated it to God. Relighting the golden menorah symbolized spiritual light being rekindled throughout the land, and the miracle of the oil was the exclamation point of God’s hand working through a small group to defeat a nation that was hell-bent on destroying His people and their spiritual heritage. Think 1967, 1973, today.

Chanukah represents much of what I want my children to value and to stand for: The honor of God and religious freedom. I want them to know deep inside that even if they are the minority, they still are obligated to stand up for truth. I want them to know without a doubt that the God Whom they believe in still performs miracles. I want them to know that it is “not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord.” I want them to know that in this world, sometimes they will have to get a little “crazy” to combat the craziness around them just as the Maccabees were "crazy" to fight against such odds.

That’s why on night one of Chanukah my daughter and I danced and sang a song at the top of our voices. It was U2’s “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.” No, really, it was the perfect song. It says, “It’s not a hill it’s a mountain as you start out the climb. Do you believe me, or are you doubting? We’re gonna make it all the way to the light. But I know I’ll go crazy if I don’t go crazy tonight / Every generation gets a chance to change the world. Pity the nation that won't listen to your boys and girls. Because the sweetest melody is the one we haven't heard. Oh, but a change of heart comes slow / It's not a hill it's a mountain as we start out the climb. 
Listen for me, I'll be shouting. 
Shouting to the darkness, squeeze out sparks of light.” That’s what Chanukah is, a shout out to darkness that the Light is coming.

I also told my children the story of a modern-day Maccabee, a modern-day hero. It went something like this: There’s a man in Israel who believes that Jews should have the right to pray on the Temple Mount. He believes that it is fundamentally wrong that when the police see the lips of a Jew moving while they are on the Temple Mount, that they promptly make them stop praying. This man fights for the right for Jews to pray on the Temple Mount and he asked people around the world to join him in that fight. People were encouraged to make their voices heard by writing or calling the Israeli government to let them know that Jews should be able to pray on the Temple Mount.

One night while this man and his wife were home, they heard a knock on their door. He answered the door to find members of the Shin Bet, the Israeli Security Agency, at his home. They asked if they could talk to him. They proceeded to tell him that he had two choices. He could either stop trying to fight for the right to pray on the Temple Mount or he could go to jail.

My daughter stopped me at this point and said, “Wait. You mean the Arab police. It couldn’t have been the Israeli police.” I sadly told her that she had heard me right the first time. She couldn’t comprehend why the Israeli police would want to stop Jews from praying. She is very wise.

I ended the story by telling my children that they know this person. Their eyes got wide at the thought of knowing a real-life hero. When I told them his name (he’s given me permission to publically tell the story without using his name because he is still watched by, not only the Shin Bet, but the CIA), their mouths dropped open and they cried out in concern wondering if he had been put in jail. Thankfully, I was able to tell them he was not in jail. And, also thankfully, he continues to fight.

So no, we are not Jewish. But yes, we celebrate Chanukah. In a crazy world where the U.N. announces it’s more historically accurate to consider Rachel’s tomb an Arab mosque, where the U.S. government tells Jews not to build houses on their own land, where the Vatican announces that the Jews are no longer God’s chosen people, I combat the craziness by lighting eight candles. The candles are a symbol of my pledge of allegiance to the people of Israel and to the God of Israel. And it is a prayer that I will always have the courage to stand on their side.

Chanukah is a hands-on history lesson that I pray my children won’t forget. God forbid that they ever have to face religious persecution. But as ancient battles seem to be resurfacing, I admit I wonder sometimes. And God forbid that they are ever in desperate need of a miracle. But if they are, I pray that they will remember they serve a God of miracles. May they always know that if they serve the God of Light, they will never have to stay afraid of the dark.

Monday, December 6, 2010

From the Outside Looking In

I read news of the fire in Israel all weekend with what felt like a pit in my stomach. Awakening to the news this morning that it was raining in Israel brought a sense of relief and joy . . . for a few minutes. Because even though the rains came, the fire came first.

I love you and I worry about you, Israel. I want what is best for you. I also want what is best for my family and for me. And what happens to you affects not just you, but the entire world. You are the answer. Through you, Hashem will save the world. Through you, redemption will come. There’s no question that redemption is going to come, but HOW it is going to come worries me. Was the fire Hashem’s message that redemption will come the hard way? Perhaps I'm reading too much into the situation. But the sages teach that Hashem's judgments are made at Rosh HaShanah and that if one does not repent, then the judgments are delivered at Chanukah.

One of the main axioms of Torah consciousness is that Hashem is One. His Oneness represents that He is the only reality, therefore everything emanates from Him. In addition, His Oneness represents that everything that comes from Him is for our good. Also, Rabbi Yehudah Lev Ashlag teaches that the main way man knows Hashem is through His acts. Following these principles one would conclude that: The fire came from Hashem. The fire is for Israel’s good. Hashem can be known through the fire.

What worries me though, is that the majority of Israel will not see the fire as a message from Hashem. And what is the point, if Israel misses the point? My heart longs for all of Israel to drop to their knees and turn their hearts towards Hashem. But the timing of the fire was during Chanukah. And the story of Chanukah is a story about a remnant. Only a small remnant fought for the honor of Hashem and the rededication of the Temple. Are there only a few modern-day Maccabees who will have the courage but also the willingness to play a hands-on role in bringing about redemption to Israel and ultimately to the rest of the world?

If so, then perhaps a message from the fire to a non-Jew like me, besides being reminded of the fear and awe due Hashem, is to direct even more prayer and help towards the remnant of Israel who will fight for His honor and fight to rebuild the Temple. I know without a doubt a remnant has heard Hashem’s message within the fire, and I know without a doubt their hearts are turned even more towards Him and that they will do what needs to be done. May that remnant gain strength from Joseph’s words in this week’s parsha , “G-d will insure your survival in the land and sustain you for a momentous deliverance.” Please, G-d, make it be so.