AVI CHAI concluded its general grant making on December 31, 2019.

Chanukah Acts: Final Reflections on Celebrating the Miracle

Posted by: YossiPrager

December 17, 2012

As the end of Chanukah 2012 draws near, Yossi Prager, AVI CHAI’s Executive Director – North America, whose question sparked this Chanukah blog series, responds with some reflections. Thank you to all of our posters for sharing your inspiring perspectives.
By: Yossi Prager
I want to thank our guest posters for Chanukah: Rabbi Jay Goldmintz, Dr. Jonathan Cannon, Ms. Sarah Blattner and Rabbi Micah Lapidus. Together, their reflections provide a rich contemplation on the meaning of the silent lights of Chanukah. I have learned from and been inspired by their thoughts.
Rabbi Goldmintz, remembering the Soviet Jewry movement that just celebrated its 25th anniversary, sees the silence of the candles as a message to young people of their own power to change the world – if only they do not remain silent. Dr. Cannon sees the silent lights as an expression of consistent involvement in Judaism that slowly intensifies over time, as distinct from the Purim celebration, which reflects the value of the single energizing event. Ms. Blattner reminds us that the job of 21st Century educators is not to fill the students with knowledge (or oil, to work with the metaphor) but to ignite their own flames, enabling them to take control of their own learning and growth. Rabbi Lapidus urges us to see the miracles of human growth that take place nearly every day in our schools.
As I read their posts, I was for some reason reminded of an activity I helped to organize at a Jewish summer camp in Estonia in 1991. Half the campers were asked to be the Greek antagonists, and half were Jews. The Jews carried candles, and their goal was to reach the Beit HaMikdash (on the basketball court) and relight the menorah in the Temple. As the Jews attempted to take circuitous routes in the dark to reach the Beit HaMikdash, the Greeks impeded the Jews by blowing out their candles. A Jew whose candle was extinguished was out of the game – unless another Jew relit his candle. The game was fun, and the educational message hit home: Jews stand for light in the darkness, and every Jew can rekindle the flame of another.
In this light (pun intended), the Chanukah candles remind me of the spectacular story of the Jewish people. Chanukah celebrates the restoration of an independent Jewish state, a miracle we experience as well in our own times. So why do we commemorate Chanukah with the silent lighting of candles, rather than with the raucous rituals of Purim?
One answer occurred to me this year, as I read an article by Rabbi Laurence Doron Perez titled “The Chanukah Controversy and Its Relevance Today” (you can find the PDF on this page). Rabbi Perez reminds us that the Hasmoneans came under blistering criticism from later Torah scholars for abrogating the Torah’s desired separation of powers – controlling both the priesthood and kingship. Some later Hasmonean kings exercised the worst abuses of power, including mass murder of fellow Jews. Yet, with the passage of time and hindsight, we were able to celebrate unreservedly the miracle of the restoration of Jewish freedom of worship and political independence “in those days at this time.”
Today, too, Rabbi Perez reminds us, we live in miraculous times for the Jewish people, who again have a sovereign state in Israel. Today’s Israel is also imperfect. For some (like Rabbi Perez), the problem stems from the distance between the values and laws of the Torah and those of the modern State of Israel. Others are dissatisfied with Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens or the Palestinians under Israel’s control. For many Jews today, including students in Jewish high schools, the imperfection of Israel is a barrier to identifying with it, to celebrating it as we celebrate each Chanukah the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over 2,000 years ago.
Those who have trouble overcoming Israel’s imperfection explain that they resist simplifying a complex situation. And there is no doubt a time for contemplating the challenges. However, Judaism also offers – demands – that at times we celebrate the miracles and put aside the imperfections. On Chanukah, we don’t analyze a text such as Megilat Esther, with its infinite layers of meaning. Instead we light candles, a simple, silent act that illuminates the darkness without analysis, complexity or ambiguity. Judaism offers many occasions for debate and discussion. Chanukah reminds us to recognize and celebrate the miraculous return of Jewish sovereignty, however imperfect.
Yossi Prager is Executive Director – North America of The AVI CHAI Foundation.

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