Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
A Light Unto the Nations?
Saturday night, Sarrae and I made our annual drive to admire the Christmas decorations in our neighborhood. In particular, made up past the high school and the ball field on Woodlawn Avenue and turned on to a side street where the houses seem to vie for most usage of electricity. Wow! I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of the houses made Newsday’s list of most spectacular.
It is ironic that Christians seem to have the monopoly on lights at this time of the year. For after all, if we are to believe Josephus, writing in the 1st century of our era, this festival was in fact called Lights. (In fact, in Hebrew a proper greeting is Chag HaUrim Sameach, a joyous festival of lights.)
Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.– Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 12.7.7 Whitson translation.
Originally, the practice, as reflected in early rabbinic literature—beginning a century or so after Josephus—was to place the lights (not the kind of menorah which we light, rather an oil lamp or a series of oil lamps) outside, so as to offer light to those passing by---it was traditional to light at early evening, when people were still out and about--. In time, because of persecution—it wasn’t safe to have the lamps outside—and/or because of inclement weather, the practice was moved indoors.
But perhaps, we should be decorating our houses and our lawns with blue and white bulbs, along with giant blow-ups of Chanukiyot and images of Judah and his brother Maccabees. If part of the injunction about Hanukkah is Pirsummay Neesah, the proclamation of the miracle, having a menorah, even a large one by the window seems scant proclamation of the holiday in a time and place when Christmas lights are boldly illuminating the night. It is nice that there are public Chanukiyot; but maybe we need to ratchet up our own observance with more light to the world. Though I have to admit that so far we limit ourselves to a menorah by the window and if we can remember where we put it a year ago, an electric menorah at another window.
We are commanded to be an Or LaGoyim, to be a light unto the nations. If not at Hanukkah, then when?
Some food for thought to go along with the latkes and donuts.
Happy Hanukkah and Shabbat shalom.
P.S. I commend to you the 6 short videos with Hanukkah reflections by members of the Jewish Theological Seminary: www.jtsa.edu.
Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel
Let There Be Fire
Appropriate for Hanukkah was the announcement last week that Israeli researchers had helped pinpoint intentional use of fire by humans 350,000 years ago. An examination of flints from the Tabun Cave, a site some 15 miles south of Haifa, which shows evidence of human habitation going back half a million years, has pushed back the date at which humans mastered the use of fire.
The recently released study by Haifa archaeologist Ron Shimelmitz was based on the premise that “fire became a regular, even permanent part of their adaptions once hominins had solved the technical challenge of kindling and maintaining it.” Examination of the strata in the cave found that before 350,000 years few of the stones showed signs of exposure to intense heat. But beginning 350,000 years ago, an increasing number of stones show signs or darkened coloration, along with cracking and small round depressions typical of exposure to fire. The finds are consistent with data from other sites, suggesting that humans in the eastern Mediterranean learned to control fire at about the same time
Earlier this year, a team led by Weizmann Institute professor Ruth Shahack-Gross discovered in the Qesem Cave, in central Israel, a large deposit of wood ash mixed with bits of bone and soil that had been repeatedly heated to a high temperature; proof that the area had been the site of a large hearth some 300,00 years ago.
According to Shimelitz, the evidence from Tabun and other nearby sites provides “a density of coverage in time and space that is currently unavailable elsewhere.”
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
The portion of Mekaytz (Genesis 41:53-43:15) is read this Saturday, December 20th. An additional reading (Numbers 7:30-35) is read in honor of Hanukkah.
42:7 When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them; but he acted like a stranger toward them and spoke harshly to them.
Our entire outlook on this story changes if we accept the fact that Joseph did not know that his brother shad fooled his father with the coat, the blood, and the lie that Joseph had been devoured by wild animals. Such thoughts never occurred to him! Hence it was Joseph who spent thirteen years of slavery in Egypt and the following years of greatness wondering: “Where is my father? Why has no one come to look for me?”
All of the factors are now reversed, when seen from Joseph’s point of view. Egypt is, after all, close to Canaan, and Jacob was a rich, important and influential man, with international familial and political connections. The Midinaites or Ishmaelites who brought Joseph to Egypt were his cousins; is it possible that no one from that caravan could be located in all those years? …Jacob had manpower enough to marshal herds and flocks as a gift for Esau; surely he had manpower to search for Joseph. We know that Jacob does not search for his son, as he thinks Joseph is dead, but Joseph has no way of knowing this.
Joseph’s wonder at his father’s silence is joined by a terrible sense of anxiety which grows stronger over the years, as seasons and years pass by and no one comes. Joseph’s anguish centers on his father: the voice inside him asking “where is my father?” is joined by another harsh voice—“Why did my father send me to my brothers that day?... Didn’t he know how dangerous Simeon and Levi are, especially since I had brought him negative reports about them? What did my brothers tell him when they returned? Can he really have no idea at all of what they had done?
… Joseph’s entire world is built on the misconception that his father has renounced him, while Jacob’s world is destroyed by the misconception that Joseph is dead. Joseph’s world is shaken when his brothers stand before him, not knowing who he is, and bow down to him. At that moment, he must question the new reality he has created for himself; “he remembers the dreams he dreamt about them” and he is thrown back into the past.
Stalling for time, he begins a line of inquiry—and action—which is geared to one end: to find out why his father had rejected him, if at all. He aims to keep Benjamin behind, so that his maternal brother, can tell him all that has transpired. After the conversation with Benjamin, he will be able to decide whether to remain silent or to speak out.
All of Joseph’s actions from this point onward—including arresting Simeon—are directed towards this goal. He wanted both to get information (could Simeon have been interrogated in prison?) and to force Jacob to send Benjamin to Egypt… (Rav Yoel Bin-Nun, “The Intractable Question: Why did Joseph Not Send Word to His Father, ‘ in Ezra Bick and Yaakov Beasley, eds., Torah MiEtzion: New Readings in Tanach: Bereshit, pp. 428-430.
Rabbi Dr. Yoel Bin Nun is one of the founders of Yeshivat Har Etzion and the chief impetus for the renewed interest in the in depth study of Tanach in Religious Zionist circles. Bin Nun received his rabbinic training at Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav under the tutelage of R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook. He received his Ph.D. from Hebrew University. He defended his dissertation, “Double Source of Human Inspiration and Authority in the Philosophy of Rav A. I. H. Kook” [Hebrew] in 2008. Bin Nun was a paratrooper in the Israeli army, and was part of the brigade that took control of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967. In 1986, he established Michlelet Yaakov Herzog for training Jewish Studies teachers, especially in Bible instruction. Between 2000-2006 he served as the Rosh Ha-Yeshiva of Yeshivat HaKibbutz HaDati in Ein Tzurim. Bin Nun is the author of number of books, articles and op-eds. Currently, together with R. Shaul Baruchi, he is heading up a new project called Mikraut, a detailed online commentary on the Torah utilizing traditional and academic resources. This material, including articles in English, can be accessed at www.ybn.co.il. [This bio is courtesy of thetorah.com website.]