Tag Archives: Hannukah

A New Chanukah Miracle

chanukah

As you are probably aware, Hanukkah (or Chanukah or lots of different transliterated spellings) is coming up. This year it will be commemorated from sundown on Tuesday, December 12 to sundown on Wednesday, December 20.

I was reading Rabbi Kalman Packouz’s commentary on Chanukah earlier and of course, re-evaluated my relation (if any) with the observance. I mean it’s difficult to objectively insert myself as a non-Jew into a purely Jewish historical event complete with miracle from Hashem.

Of course since today President Donald Trump formally recognized that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state of Israel barely a week before Chanukah, I suppose this too is a sort of miracle and one relevant to the entire world.

(The real miracle would be if the realm of news and social media wouldn’t have a total anti-Semitic hissy fit and meltdown over it, but I suppose that’s asking too much.)

I read somewhere (I can’t find the source now) that historically, the world has tried to destroy the Jews in two different ways, physically as a people (genocide, ethnic cleansing) and by assimilation into general culture (eliminating Jewish identity and uniqueness). Purim is the Jewish celebration of victory over the former and Chanukah the commemoration of victory over the latter.

But what does any of that have to do with non-Jew? In both cases, it’s non-Jews who are the problem, not the solution. Even those of us to are linked to the Jewish community one way or the other (okay, I’m married to a Jewish wife, but that only links me to her, not the community) and who are pro-Israel weren’t involved in either original event, so what do we have to celebrate, except perhaps in solidarity? It’s not our commemoration.

I visited the closest thing I can find that might hold any sort of answer at AskNoah.org to see what they had to say. Granted, they won’t recognize my devotion to Rav Yeshua as having any sort of legitimacy, but people like me inhabit a sort of spiritual and theological “no man’s land” anyway.

According to the article “Noahides may light Hanukkah candles without a blessing,” not only can we light the menorah to announce the miracles of God (minus the blessings since we are not commanded to do so), we can…

…still mark the days of Hanukkah this year in some of the additional customary ways. This includes the option to say the chapters of Psalms (Psalms 91, 67, 30, 133, 33), reading and thinking about the history and messages of Hanukkah, and enjoying some traditional recipes. You can also attend public lightings of outdoor Hanukkah menorahs that might be taking place near you during the festival.

The article even provides us with this:

The following recitation paragraph, adopted from the Jewish traditional liturgy (version of the Ari Zal), can also be said during the days of Hanukkah:

“In the days of Matisyahu, the son of Yochanan the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, the wicked Hellenic government rose up against the people of Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will. But You, in your abounding mercies, stood by them in the time of their distress. You waged their battles, defended their rights and avenged the wrong done to them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah. You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world, and effected a great deliverance and redemption for the people of Israel to this very day. Then the Israelites entered the shrine of Your Holy House, purified and rededicated Your sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courtyards, and instituted these eight days of Hanukkah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name.”

Granted, none of this takes into consideration our “Judaically aware” perception of Rav Yeshua and our being allowed to partake in some of the New Covenant blessings based on the merit of our Master and our discipleship, however meager in my case, to him. Still, for lack of any better template, this will have to do.

trump jerusalem
President Donald Trump holds up a proclamation to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

It is true that Chanukah is a relatively minor holiday, so there’s not a lot to get worked up over, but for me, this is what happens every time my Gentile faith in the Jewish Rav intersects at all with some aspect of Judaism.

All that said, I suspect the real role of people like me/us in the days to come will significantly eclipse Chanukah. As the world challenges the Jewish right to call the City of David Israel’s capital and hates the American President for recognizing the fact (of course, if Trump said he liked to eat steamed carrots, suddenly eating steamed carrots would become totally evil because, well, you know, just because), we will be called to stand up and stand with the defenders of Israel against her enemies.

The majority of the world, that is, all Gentiles everywhere, are going to oppose Jerusalem vehemently. We must shoulder the burden of standing against our parents, our children, our spouses, our friends, our neighbors, because we will be the few among the nations who stands with Israel.

May Chanukah be a time of miracles and may Hashem continue to protect His people and nation Israel. May He also grant us among the nations the privilege of joining the righteous.

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Of Grandchildren, Chanukah, and Christmas

As I’m sure many of you know, I haven’t been contributing to this blog spot lately. It’s not so much because I don’t have the time, but rather because some of the “fire” or inspiration for doing so has cooled off.

I have no local community of faith and no longer have a steady stream of information coming in regarding the Messianic perspective on the Bible, the Messiah, and faith to employ as a muse.

chanukah
Chanukah 2016

I had been considering writing something about Christmas and Chanukah (besides my little science fiction Chanukah story) and dreading it at the same time since, after all, it is somewhat expected, but then these issues collided with my regularly scheduled life.

A few things.

My son David is divorced with two children, my seven-year-old grandson and my almost eighteen-month-old granddaughter.

David is currently living with us to save up some dough, and his arrangement with his ex is that he gets the kids for one week and she gets them for the next.

That’s under normal circumstances.

Because she celebrates Christmas and we don’t, we’ve had them for the past week-and-a-half, and she’ll get them starting late Friday or early Saturday, and keep them for the next two weeks.

Since Christmas and the start of Chanukah both begin on December 24th this year, the grandkids will get Christmas but miss Chanukah.

My granddaughter wouldn’t care, but my grandson loves Chanukah. With this in mind, my family decided to celebrate Chanukah a week early this year so, for us, the fourth night of Chanukah begins at sundown tonight.

Another little factoid. David is dating (I personally think it’s on the rebound, but he says “no” and what do I know anyway?) and she celebrates Christmas, too.

star christmasSo last Sunday evening after my grandson lit the candles and my wife coached him through reciting the blessings, my son and his girlfriend produced a bunch of Christmas presents and gave them to my grandchildren.

I had no idea this was going to happen, and I found myself surprised, shocked, and more than a little dismayed.

I usually silently endure the Christmas season and am grateful when January rolls around so traffic goes back to normal and I don’t have to listen to Christmas music anymore. It’s not like I’ve got a case of “paganoia” about the holiday, I just find it overly commercialized and tedious.

But it invaded my home and without even the slightest warning.

At least no one dragged a Christmas tree into the house.

Which brings me to what really inspired today’s missive. Jewish actress Natalie Portman has a Christmas Tree.

This story was published as Jewish educational site Aish.com to illustrate the potential danger of Jewish assimilation into wider secular culture (or worse, directly into normative Goyishe Christianity).

They also published a parallel article, When Christmas Meets Hanukkah touting the same message.

Is it okay to mix Christmas and Chanukah together? Can you have a Chanukah menorah in your home alongside a Christmas tree? Is this acceptable intermarriage holiday practice?

Experts and authors such as Susan Katz Miller would probably say “yes,” but I’m not so sure.

It’s a foregone conclusion that my non-Jewish grandchildren will be raised with Christmas and Easter and all of that, but thanks to their Bubbe, they’ll also experience at least Chanukah and Passover and occasionally a smidgen of Sukkot.

natalie portman christmas tree
Natalie Portman, Image: Aish.com

My wife isn’t particularly observant (I wish she were more observant) and my son even less (non-existent). If he wasn’t living with us, he probably wouldn’t light the candles, and in spite of the fact that he complained about his ex-wife celebrating Christmas when he was married, he seems perfectly fine with giving his children Christmas presents for the sake of his new girlfriend.

If my family hadn’t been such a mixed bag of evolving religious practice when my own children were growing up, and if we had specifically raised them Jewish, maybe some of it would have stuck. I’d like to think so, even though there’s a crisis of assimilation into secularism attacking the upcoming Jewish generation.

All three of my kids identify as Jewish ethnically, but that’s about where it ends. I really don’t think mixing and matching is such a great idea in families (and if my son marries yet another non-Jewish wife and has more kids, it’ll just get worse). Granted, Natalie Portman can make whatever decisions she wants for her family, but if I had it to do over again, when my sons were born thirty years ago, I would have pushed my wife to join a local synagogue and start her (and my family’s) Jewish education right then and there.

That would have changed a whole lot though, so I’m conflicted. At that time, neither of us were religious, and as her non-Jewish spouse, if I had started attending shul with her and the kids, and if I had become entrenched in that lifestyle by the time we initially encountered Christianity some seven or so years later, I might not have become a believer, and then transitioned into a Judaically aware perspective thanks to first Hebrew Roots and then later Messianic Judaism.

How could I do that, and yet, for the sake of my Jewish children, how could I not?

Each of my three adult children will have to make their own path if they want to recapture what it is to be a Jew. I’ll help if they ask, but otherwise it’s totally up to them. It’s totally up to my long-suffering wife if she wants to become more observant (and she’s the product of an intermarriage as well). I’ve told her more than once that I’ll accept whatever decision she makes in that direction.

assimilationI have almost no control at all of what happens to my grandchildren. They’re not Jewish but I have this secret hope that they’ll become curious one day and want to investigate that part of their heritage (they could always convert).

The world is bleeding out Jews thanks to the hemorrhage of intermarriage and secular assimilation (except for the Orthodox, or so I’ve been told). I can’t fix it in my family, and can only watch and shake my head when I see my grandchildren rip into Christmas wrapping as the Chanukah lights burn just a few feet away.

May the Messiah come soon and in our day to return the Jewish people not only to Israel but to themselves.

Excerpt: A Time To Follow Your Heart

Chanukah MenorahA different kind of Chanukah story presented at Powered by Robots.

Sarah stood across the street from her Bubbe’s and Zayde’s house. The evening of December 24th, the first night of Chanukah this year, was cool, even in the Los Angeles suburb of Brentwood, but she had dressed for the occasion. She made sure the coat she was wearing wouldn’t attract attention in case anyone saw her.

Sarah wished she could get closer. She wished she could just knock on the door and go inside, but she wasn’t supposed to be there and she wasn’t supposed to change anything.

Wait! There they were. She could see them through the window in the front of their house. Bubbe and Zayde. Her big brother Aaron, all of seven years old, was excitedly jumping up and down next to them. Sarah couldn’t hear anything of course, but she could see everyone’s facial expressions and imagined Zayde firmly but kindly helping Aaron to calm down.

Tradition says that the Chanukah menorah must be placed either in a central area of the home or by a window. The latter is to proudly announce that a miracle had occurred and this was the commemoration of that miracle. Sarah was watching her family tonight thanks to a miracle she had created herself.

This tale is more flash fiction than a science fiction short story so you can read all of A Time to Follow Your Heart in just a few minutes. Let me know what you think.

The Light of Our Traditions

I’ll share a little secret with you. Sometimes, I really don’t like the holidays, but probably not for the reasons you think.

There’s a temptation to read into the reasons a person like me might “disengage” from Christmas, even though my wife and (Jewish) family members consider me a Christian. You might think I’m freaking out over the “pagan origins” of Christmas. Maybe you believe I abhor the secular, consumerism associated with Christmas. Along those lines, you could even consider that I want to put the “Christ” back in “Christmas”.

Actually, the crass materialism connected to one of the biggest American holidays of the year is probably my biggest objection of those listed above. The intense greed and “feeding frenzy” chaotic power surge of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” are more objectionable to me than people putting up a real or artificial pine tree and decorating it with lights and ornaments.

And of course, my family is Jewish, making Christmas a “non-starter” in our home. Really, I don’t miss it. Well, not exactly.

Children's Christmas PageantI’ve written about Christmas before (do a search on “Christmas” on this blog and you’ll see the list…it’s long), and although I’m not fond of this time of year, I really don’t care if secular people or even Christians celebrate it.

Every person has their cherished traditions, as does every family. Christmas is a cherished tradition for many, many American families. Some see it as a way to celebrate the birth of the Savior and take the opportunity to loudly and publicly praise his advent into our world. Some of those same people also seize the moment and choose to give back extra to the community through various forms of charity.

Others, who are not religious, still view Christmas as a time to gather family and friends in whom they find physical and emotional warmth at this time of year, which, here in Idaho, can be pretty cold and dark. Even the areligious bask in the joy of their children on Christmas morning as they open their presents, enjoy roast turkey or goose for the celebratory meal, and marvel in the beauty of neighborhoods decked in the glow of seasonal lights. And sometimes the areligious outshine the Christians in our communities in giving to charity and helping give to those who are doing without.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed seasonal lights recently, they just weren’t Christmas lights.

Every night for the first seven nights of Chanukah, my wife and daughter would gather around our two Chanukiah, say the blessings, and light the Chanukah lights one by one.

I usually only become aware of it when I hear the blessings being said and, when I peak out into our living room toward the kitchen and dining areas, I see my wife and daughter illuminated by the glow.

It still stings a little, but I try to understand that, from their point of view, this is a celebration of Jewish lights, Jewish victories, and Jewish freedom, and the miracles of God toward Israel. As a Christian, my tradition isn’t supposed to include Jewish tradition, so they don’t think to invite me.

But last night was different.

Actually, all of yesterday was different.

lambMy wife and daughter being foodies, can take all day to prepare for a single dinner. My daughter had to work yesterday, so my wife had me fire up the Traeger and pour in the wood pellets so it was prepared, first for beef brisket, and then for lamb. My job as a non-cook, is to clean, usually the ever mounting mess in the kitchen, but also to vacuum the living room and such. I also get sent to the store for various last minute items.

I had an irrational thought about whether or not the stores would be open, only to remember that, for the rest of the world, Chanukah is no big deal. No store closures or limited hours in Idaho for a Jewish celebration.

Finally 5 o’clock arrived and so did the family. Children and grandchildren gathered together. It wasn’t idyllic. These are human beings and we’re a human family, not a Hallmark greeting card. Still, I felt a warmth that didn’t come from the glow of a well used stove top and oven.

I was remembering other family holiday gatherings of the past. I was remembering Christmas, of a sort. Not the tree or the presents or all of that, but the feeling of family coming together, good company, good food, and playing games (my grandson cleaned up on gelt when we played dreidel).

My daughter, who actually knows Hebrew and doesn’t require transliterations of the blessings, helped my six-year old grandson recite the blessing to ignite the Chanukah lights for the final night. His pronunciation was terrible and I doubt he understood the significance, especially since his parents don’t (as far as I know) incorporate any Jewish observance or tradition in their home. But if we can expose him and his now nearly six-month old sister, to activities such as Chanukah, Passover, and Sukkot, year after year, then maybe, just maybe, when they’re older, they’ll be curious enough about their father’s Jewish heritage to look into it on their own.

chanukahOK, that’s pretty unlikely, but what the heck. It’s worth a shot.

That’s what tradition is and what it does. It’s a way to teach your children the values and history of the family, to pass on to the next generation what practices we think are important and why they mean so much to us.

The Jews are experts at this and have been passing on traditions from parent to child for thousands of years, and this, as much as anything, has preserved the Jewish people and the functional practice of Judaism from generation to generation, when over 99% of the rest of the world has actively been trying to destroy them, either through outright extermination or assimilation, which amounts to the same thing.

Although I no longer connect with Christmas, I can hardly distain those who hold it most dear. They’re doing what we’re doing…passing along family and cultural traditions and values. We may or may not approve of the specifics of those values, but we can hardly call the process into question because what they do is what we do.

I know some secular people who have objected to, for example, various practices in Orthodox Judaism involving children, such as what they see as excessively modest dress or little boys wearing their hair in Payot (Hebrew: פֵּאָה‎; plural: פֵּאוֹת), even going so far as to call it child abuse.

But it’s a tradition of their culture and a rather benign one at that. Are we to criticize the traditions of other families and other cultures just because they are not like our own?

So if one family celebrates Chanukah and another Christmas, why the panic attack?

family chanukahHeck, I remember when my children were quite young. We still lived in Southern California. We still celebrated Christmas. My wife had friends, an older Jewish couple (they were friends of her parents actually) who visited us on Christmas Day. One year, they took us to a Judaica store, one of the few businesses open on December 25th, and it was quite interesting.

They didn’t seem to object that we were celebrating Christmas (even though they knew my wife was Jewish, though she wasn’t religious at the time). It was an opportunity for us to get together and spend some time with each other. Friendship and family works like that.

So last night, I enjoyed the lamb and the latkes. We ate homemade ice cream and played dreidel. My grandson helped light the Chanukah lights and I got to stand right there with my family and watch our home become illuminated.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was good. I hope next year it will be even better.

The Candles in My Heart

Chanukah MenorayThat the spark of G-d within us will ponder G-d, what is the surprise?

But when the animal within us lifts its eyes to the heavens, when the dark side of a human creature lets in a little light, that is truly wondrous. How can darkness know light? How can earth know heaven?

Only with the power of He who is beyond heaven and earth, and so too is neither darkness nor light.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Dark Knowing Light”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe,
Rabbi M.M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

The Candles in My Heart: An Unusual Chanukah Story

I think there must be something wrong with me. I don’t know what it is exactly, except I keep getting that square peg in round hole feeling. It happened last night, the first night of Chanukah (it’s early on Thanksgiving morning as I’m writing this), when I realized that my wife had lit the first candle in the menorah and hadn’t called me in to watch. Actually, I was a little surprised.

She was supposed to be back from work by mid-afternoon Wednesday night, but didn’t make it home until nearly sunset. I thought about getting out the menorah and setting everything up, but lately, she’s gotten a tad annoyed when I’ve intervened in “Jewish” matters around the house. So I let it be. I saw that she had bought candles but wasn’t sure if she’d light the menorah on the first night since she was late.

But she did and I missed it…

…and I miss it.

That’s what I mean about being strange or out-of-place. I, a Christian, going to a Baptist church, meeting with my Pastor for private talks every week about Christianity, and I still miss seeing the menorah being lit on the first night of Chanukah.

It’s almost like I’m this person (although, of course, I’m not Jewish).

Two years ago I was in Baltimore on business, and happened to pass by the public menorah in front of Johns Hopkins University just as the first light was being lit. My eyes welled with tears. Although I was raised a secular Jew, my family has always celebrated Chanukah. To be away from my family that first night of the holiday felt cold and lonely. Now, seeing the lights of the first night’s flames of that big menorah, my heart lit up also, and I felt the warmth of my people all around me.

-Laura P. Schulman
“The Menorah That Lit Up My Life”
Chabad.org

The story goes on about how the next day, Ms. Schulman was approached by a Jewish “young man in a black hat” and asked, “Excuse me, are you Jewish?” The transaction between them, as well as the gift of a “Chanukah kit,” complete with menorah, candles, and instructions, sent Schulman on a journey to rekindle the Jewishness of her soul and the unique covenant connection she has with God.

And she’s not the only one:

We talked about friends we had or hadn’t kept in touch with from high school. “You know, I talked to Artie right before my trip,” I told him. “He says he went to Hebrew school, already knows all about Judaism, thinks you’re flipping out, thinks I’m wasting my time. But you can’t believe how much I’ve learned in the last couple of months that he has no clue about – about Jewish law, and philosophy, and the meaning of historical events, and the return to the Land, and all that. He thinks because he knows something, he knows everything – and he knows practically nothing!”

Then Jake said, “That’s what I think about you!”

-Eric Brand
“When God Sends You a Message…”
Aish.com

jewish-handsIn this article, Brand talks of reuniting with an old friend after a lengthy separation, and discovering his friend had moved to Israel and “become religious”. His friend Jake, or rather Yerachmiel now, was thought to be crazy, even by his own mother. Brand thought so too for a while, only to realize that at a critical moment in the conversation over pizza, Yerachmiel was just a messenger. God was talking and calling Eric back to Him.

I think God calls to all of us, Jewish or not, to come to Him, but for Jewish people, it’s especially unique because Israel was called out of the nations to be a treasured people to Him first. I can see it in my wife. It’s like God flipped a switch and sent a signal to a homing beacon in her soul and she had to return to Him.

Granted, it comes in stages, as it does with the rest of us, so I can only hope and pray that as time goes on, she’ll move more in the direction God wants her to go.

Sometimes, because I’m not Jewish and particularly because I am a Christian, I think I get in the way of how far she could go, the distance that people like Laura Schulman and Eric Brand have traveled.

But then, if Jesus is indeed the Jewish Messiah, then ultimately, he’s the King to both of us, as he is to everyone. Ultimately, there will be no dissonance, even though, in the present age, the disconnect is huge.

An Israeli immigration judge has ordered the deportation of a Messianic Jewish man from England who was arrested last week for taking part in an evangelistic event in southern Israel.

Barry Barnett, 50, a worker with Jews for Jesus UK, was ordered on Sunday (Nov. 24) to leave the country by Dec. 3. Barnett, who is based in England, was volunteering at the Jews for Jesus “Behold your God Israel” campaign around the city of Be’er Shiva when he was arrested Wednesday (Nov. 20) at about 4 p.m.

According to his wife, Alison Barnett, six immigration control officers took him from Be’er Shiva, 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of Jerusalem, to an immigration office in Omer, just outside of the city. He was held there for several hours without charge, then transferred to an immigration-holding unit of a prison in Ramle, near Tel Aviv. He spent four days in jail before his court hearing.

-from “Israel Orders Deportation of Jews for Jesus Missionary”
Christianity Today

The thing is, Barnett hadn’t done anything illegal. According to the article:

…the ultra-Orthodox, anti-Christian group Yad L’Achim had followed the Jews for Jesus teams to their campaign sites in Israel since the event started. Yad L’Achim has a long-standing history of links with sympathetic government officials who issue legal actions on their behalf.

In the past, I’ve written quite a lot about Christian supersessionism or the theology that “the Church” has replaced Israel in all of God’s covenant promises. This is a reprehensible artifact of Church history and I deplore its continued expression in any sense in the community of Jesus.

But there’s a flip side to all of this. It’s an understandable flip side given the history of enmity between Christianity and Judaism, but it results in such actions as Barry Barnett’s illegal arrest and detainment without charges in Israel because he represents Jews for Jesus.

I even read a comment on the blog commentary for this story published at rosh pina project where a Jewish gentleman called Barnett a “murderer.”

So I suppose, putting things into context, me being not invited to the lighting of the menorah on the first night of Chanukah in my own home isn’t so bad.

candleBut I still miss it.

I find reading “testimonials” like those written by Ms. Schulman and Mr. Brand heartwarming; Jews being called back to Judaism and to God. Why don’t I have the same sort of feelings about people being called into the Church and to Christ?

It’s not as if I’m opposed to my own faith, but the cultural context gets in the way. No, it’s not like I’m in any way “culturally Jewish.” I’m about as white-bread American non-ethnic anything as it gets.

But I’d rather spend the festival of Sukkot once a year in a place like Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship than all the Sundays there are in a traditional church setting. No, I don’t disdain worshiping with other Christians in the body of believers, but the music, the patterns of worship, the traditions, the prayers, the Torah readings, all call to me in a way that Christian hymns seem to lack.

I know I sound ungrateful. I’m not, really. I appreciate the opportunity God has afforded me to be with my fellow believers, to hear my Pastor preach each Sunday morning, to participate in Bible study after services in Sunday school, to meet and speak with people far closer to God than I.

But I’ve called myself a Gentile who studies Messianic Judaism for a reason.

I don’t know why, but when God set off my own “homing signal,” it called me in an unanticipated direction and that direction continues to pull at me. No matter where I am or whoever I’m with, I cannot be diverted from that path. Even if I never see another Shabbat candle lit, never hear another Hillel in Hebrew, never am present when a Torah scroll being removed from the arc, I cannot become that which I am not.

I’m not Jewish. I’m not Israel. I completely understand that. My wife once called me a “Jewish wannabe” and although that still stings a little, I can’t completely deny the validity of that statement. I just don’t know why it’s true of me.

I also can’t be a “traditional Christian,” although I think it would make my Pastor’s life a little easier if I’d just give in and assimilate theologically and culturally into the church environment as it exists in our little corner of Southwest Idaho.

I may never be invited to see the Chanukah menorah lit in my home or even the Shabbos candles, but I am not in darkness. God lights them in my heart and it’s by their illumination that I am guided to Messiah, particularly during this season.

For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

1 Corinthians 7:16 (NASB)

And then, last Thursday evening, amid the frenzied activity of getting Thanksgiving dinner ready (and it was a wonderful repast), everything stopped as we all gathered around the menorah and my daughter said the blessings and lit the second light of Chanukah. And we, as a family, were blessed. May the lights of Chanukah and the light of God illuminate you.

Happy Thanksgivukkah

WonderAmazement never ceases for the enlightened mind.

At every moment it views in astonishment the wonder of an entire world renewed out of the void, and asks, “How could it be that anything at all exists?”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Wonder”
Chabad.org

As you read this, it is Thanksgiving, an American national holiday dedicated to giving thanks for the bountiful blessings we have each received from God. At least that’s how it was originally conceived. It’s also the first full day of Chanukah (spellings vary), the Jewish holiday celebrating the miracle of the meager Jewish forces defeating the mighty Greeks, and that in sanctifying the Temple, Hashem, God of Israel, allowed one day’s worth of sanctified oil to burn for eight days, thus cleansing and dedicating the Temple for holiness.

Thankfulness and miracles. And yet how often do we fail to appreciate what God gives us, especially in a land of plenty.

I’ve been pondering my conversations with my Pastor as well as the sermons of John MacArthur and the other presenters at the Strange Fire conference. In my recent investigation into the concept (as opposed to the movement) of Christian fundamentalism, I see that at its heart, it is just the attempt to render a basic definition of the essentials of what makes a Christian. It’s the minimum set of standards, so to speak, that one must uphold to be an authentic believer.

Of course, in order to create a minimum set of essential beliefs or attributes, you have to take the vast body of information in the Bible and reduce it down to its bare bones, so to speak. You have to determine what is an absolute must about the Bible, and then consider that most of the other “stuff” is good, but not a deal making or breaking requirement.

But that’s also one of the flaws in Christian fundamentalism. It’s reductionistic. It cuts out things like miracles, and wonder, and awe, and amazement in an incredible, infinite, personal, creative God!

In establishing a core, fundamentalism must eliminate or at least set to one side, thoughts, feelings, and meditations such as those expressed in the above-quoted words of Rabbi Freeman.

Is it wrong to be astonished by God? Is it an error to be thankful for not only the tangibles of the Bible, but the sheer fact that God exists and chooses to be involved in our lives just because He loves us?

For Jewish people, awareness of God goes beyond the generic thanksgiving for the blessings of Heaven. The very fact that Jews exist in our world today after so many thousands of years of effort the world has expended in trying to exterminate them, is a very great miracle.

We say every day during Chanukah in the Shemona Esrei the Al Haneesim (on the miracles), “When the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your Will.” The order of the prayer mentions that first the Greeks wanted the Jews to forget Torah and secondly to stray from Hashem’s statutes.

The Greeks understood exactly how to undermine Judaism and expedite assimilation. How was this done? The Gemara in Hureous states that a father has an obligation to teach his son Torah from the moment he is old enough to speak. The first pasuk of Torah that a father teaches his child is,”Moshe commanded us with the Torah and this is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov.” The second pasuk a father is obligated to teach his child is the Shema – “Hear, O Israel: Hashem is our G-d, Hashem, the One and Only.” – Which asserts our belief in the unity of G-d.

-Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky
“The Light of Torah: The Torah Sustains Judaism”
Commentary on Chanukah and Torah Portion Miketz
Torah.org

Tefillin with RabanI know that a lot of Christians support the existence of the Jewish people and Israel, and yet devalue the practice and observance of Judaism. A lot of prejudice has been generated in Christianity against Judaism over the long centuries, and particularly the mistaken idea that much of the Torah represents not the Word of God, but the man-made traditions of the Rabbis. Further, the general (and again, mistaken) belief in the Church that God only gave the Jewish people the Torah to prove to them that no one can attain righteousness by human effort and that they must depend on the grace of Jesus for salvation, re-enforces the idea that Torah observance and therefore Judaism is a “religion of useless works.”

It is beyond imagination to most Christians how a Jew who has faith in Yeshua as Messiah and thus is saved by grace, can still desire and even demand to continue observing the mitzvot and align with the larger, non-believing Jewish community.

But, as Rabbi Kalatsky points out, or at least as I infer from his commentary, God gave the Torah to Israel to sustain Israel, to define and preserve the Jewish people. Being Jewish isn’t just a string of DNA and it’s not just a set of ethnic practices, customs, traditions, and rules, it’s an identity, a life, and a continual experience assigned to the Jewish people by God. A Jew who doesn’t observe the mitzvot is still Jewish of course, but the full blessings and apprehension of the unique relationship between Jewish people and God can only come from a life immersed in Torah and in Judaism. And Rabbi Kalatsky is hardly the only one to make such observations.

It was Judaism that provided the refuge for my parents in the disorienting passage from one society to another. My father’s rabbinic calling transcended borders. Hebrew remained the key to eternal verities. The Jewish calendar continued to govern the rhythm of our home. I never heard my parents lament the money they were forbidden to take out of (1940s) Germany, only the shipment of books from my father’s library that never made it to America.

-Ismar Schorsch
“At-Homeness,” pg 149, December 8, 2001
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayeishev
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

As I write all this, I find it strange and even amazing that I, a Gentile Christian, can feel so passionate about supporting a Jewish life abundantly enriched by the Torah of God.

Many Christians see Judaism in more or less the same way I see some fundamentalist Christians: as a faith made up of discrete, definable, finite, quantifiable pieces. A faith that is like listening to an auto mechanic explain what each of the parts of your car’s engine does, who takes it apart, shows you each gasket, spring, and fitting, then puts it all together right before your eyes and starts it up for you. Sure, it’s incredible and amazing, but it is also fully within the grasp of human beings.

Is that all that God is? Is He nothing more?

Consider three things, and you will not approach sin. Know whence you came, whereto you are going, and before Whom you are destined to give an accounting.

-Ethics of the Fathers 3:1

If we thought about our humble origin on the one hand, and the greatness we can achieve on the other, we would come to only one logical conclusion: the potential for such greatness could not possibly reside in the microscopic germ-cell from which we originated. This capacity for greatness can reside only in the neshamah (soul), the spirit which God instills within man.

What an extraordinary stretching of the imagination it must take to think that a single cell can develop into the grandeur which a human being can achieve! People have the power to contemplate and reflect upon infinity and eternity, concepts which are totally beyond the realm of the physical world. How could something purely finite even conceive of infinity?

Our humble origins are the greatest testimony to the presence of a Divine component within man. Once we realize this truth, we are unlikely to contaminate ourselves by behavior beneath our dignity. We have an innate resistance to ruining what we recognize to be precious and beautiful. We must realize that this is indeed what we are.

Today I shall…

…try to make my behavior conform to that which I recognize to be the essence of my being: the spirit that gives me the potential for greatness.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
“Growing Each Day, Kislev 20”
Aish.com

This too is Judaism; the recognition that it is God’s Spirit that imbues us with the ability to strive to be more than who we are right now.

Hashem, what is man that You recognize him; the son of a frail human that You reckon with him? Man is a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.

Psalm 144:3-4 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

sky-above-you-god1David, a King, a man after God’s own heart, gazed up in wonder that God took any notice of human beings at all. Why don’t we do the same? Why can’t we turn our hearts away from our trivial pursuits and in thanksgiving, awe, and wonder, turn to the majesty and magnificence of the One true King of the Universe, Lord and Master of Eternity, and the lover of our very souls? For as much as the food on our tables, and our jobs, and our families, and all that God’s providence has placed in our lives, wonder too is a gift of God.

And when Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincide we find ourselves doubly blessed. We will be able to offer thanks to God on the same day for both our spiritual and material blessings. Let us delight in this extremely rare opportunity to bless God for the food for our bodies as well as the survival of our faith that grants us spiritual sustenance for our souls.

-Rabbi Benjamin Blech
“Thanksgivukkah”
Aish.com

I’m writing this a full week before you’ll read it. Perhaps you’ll wake up early on Thanksgiving morning and read this “meditation” with your first cup of coffee, or while the turkey is baking and there’s a lull in the kitchen activity, or later, after the meal and the football games are over, as the pumpkin pie is settling in your stomach and you hold a glass of wine in your hand, but I have a hope for the day you read this. I hope that you’ll take a moment, turn away from your computer, maybe close your eyes or turn your gaze to Heaven, and know that you are in front of the Throne of God, a God who loves you, a God you provides, not only for your body, but for everything you can imagine, and for everything you can’t.

Happy Thanksgivukkah.