Tag Archives: Hanukkah

Our Hope This Chanukah: “I Got You”

As bullets rained down during the San Bernardino shooting rampage, Shannon Johnson, 45, wrapped his left arm around 27-year-old Denise Peraza and held her close.

“I got you,” Johnson told her.

Peraza was shot once in the back and survived.

Johnson died.

Peraza, who is recovering from her injuries, shared her story of survival Saturday with reporters to honor Johnson.

-Sarah Parvini and Cindy Carcamo
“‘I got you’ are man’s last words to co-worker as bullets fly in San Bernardino rampage”
The Los Angeles Times

Johnson and Peraza
Photo: L.A. Times: Shannon Johnson, 45, left, and Denise Peraza, 27, right.

I suppose a lot of you reading this have heard the story, either in the news or through social media. Shannon Johnson’s photo has been all over Facebook and probably twitter and other media outlets as well. It should be.

I know that in a week, everyone will forget about Mr. Johnson, about Denise Peraza, the young woman whose life he saved, and (tragically) even about the terrorist massacre which took the lives 14 innocent people.

That’s human nature in the digital age. Our attention and even our compassion in fleeting. Once the event has passed, we crave another thrill served up for us by CNN or MSNBC.

More’s the pity.

But what’s worse than forgetting the victims is vilifying them. You can click the link to see the details. This man’s life and the fact that he wasn’t Jewish (although the news media misidentified him as such) has brought all of the Internet trolls out in force, including people I have known (via the web) personally. People who are otherwise decent human beings who find it necessary to desecrate the dead.

And on top of all that, the so-called press, if you can imagine a person like Linda Stasi qualifying as an “unbiased” reporter, are playing the blame the victim game from a different direction.

Every time someone says it was the victim’s fault he/she was shot, killed, raped, maimed because of their politics, their religion, their gender, or anything else, when they were, by definition, not the aggressor but the target of aggression, not only do we excuse the person or people or groups who/that were actually responsible for the attack, relieving them of any blame for their actions, we reveal ourselves to be, at best, morally and ethically confused, and at worst, cowards.

HopeThis is a season of hope, or it’s supposed to be. Chanukah is a reminder that even in the face of overwhelming odds, God will help His people not only survive, but prevail against armies and evil.

Another such “morally confused” individual who also happens to “report” on television news media has expressed concern that Americans pray to an anti-Muslim God. I’ll let you readers decide how you want to interpret that sentiment, but I don’t think it’s wrong to pray, not only for mercy, but for justice. God can decide what is just, and it shouldn’t be too hard for those of us who have been studying the Bible for a while to have some idea of what Hashem considers just in the affairs of the human race.

I could go on and on quoting people I find enormously misguided and yet who much of the public seems to hang by their every word, but I came to give hope, not despair.

More than that, I came to talk about how all of us can give hope, using Chanukah as our basic template, whether we’re Jewish or not (and I’m not).

Sara Debbie Gutfreund wrote a small article for Aish called 8 Ways to Turn Darkness into Light. I’m sure we have been staring into the darkness a great deal lately. There is much darkness in the world.

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

-Friedrich Nietzsche

Often, we respond to tragedy and despair with anger and outrage, and while this is perfectly understandable, it’s not always helpful.

Ms. Gutfreund’s list of eight items are:

  • Practice kindness
  • Reframe your goals
  • Living “as if”
  • Thinking creatively
  • Look through a spiritual lens
  • Embrace change
  • Connect to God
  • Love challenge

You can read her article to get the specifics, but it comes down to you and me having a personal responsibility to be the light that illuminates the darkness, to be a beacon of hope sweeping away heartache and grief.

lampThis is the same message Rabbi Benjamin Blech was explaining and why Chanukah is so important.

Not only that, our Rav taught his disciples something similar:

“No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on the lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays.”

Luke 11:33-36 (NASB)

We have a very simple choice before us…simple to understand, but not always simple to perform. We have to choose if we want to be light or darkness. Which do you want to be and moreover, which one are you, based on your words (spoken and printed) and actions (the latter being more relevant than just what you want)?

Of course, often the people who embrace darkness imagine that they are actually representatives of the light. They’re sincere about it, too. No amount of talking, convincing, or arguing will change their minds or let them see themselves as the darkness desperately in need of light.

If some of them come along (and they have visited me here before), I know I won’t be able to convince them. Hopefully, they will show themselves wise and just hold their tongues (fingertips in the case of keyboarding).

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

-Abraham Lincoln

Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.

Proverbs 17:28 (NASB)

Maybe that makes me a fool for even writing all this.

Johnson was identified as “a Christian who…dabbled in Hinduism,” whatever that might mean to you who are reading this.

But this is who he was to the woman he saved, Denise Peraza:

“This amazing, selfless man who always brought a smile to everyone’s face in the office … this is Shannon Johnson, who will be deeply missed by all … my friend, my hero.”

I’ve referenced a few people who represent the darkness but I won’t name the main participants, the terrorists. They’ve received enough recognition and I won’t give them more.

Alone in silenceIf I do want to preserve a single memory of this horrible event, I want it to be of Shannon Johnson who, while probably not a perfect person, and maybe you’d disagree with is religion or something else about his life, spent the last few moments of his life being the light. He wrapped his arms about Peraza and said, “I got you.”

These were his last words before his life but not his light went out of this world.

If he was and is a light, if, as disciples of our Rav, we also are to be lights, and if our Rav is a light, He is also the Light Who made it possible for one day’s supply of oil to burn for eight, purifying the defiled, returning the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to Hashem’s service.

It’s as if He said to the aged priest Matisyahu and his five sons, “I got you.”

Is it such a leap to believe, that when our own light is being threatened by the darkness, it can be reignited by those same words spoken to us?

When we cry, when our hearts are crushed, when we are overwhelmed by this nightmarish world, by overt evil that shoots a gun, and covert evil that kills with words, God whispers to each one of us out of the darkness, “I got you.”

Let your flame illuminate the abyss, banish the demons, and declare righteousness and justice for the oppressed and the grieving.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

light“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:3-12 (NASB)

“When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Chanukah and the Light of Love

“Rav Avraham Pam (former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas) teaches us that we see this special love of God for the whole Jewish people even though many had defected to Hellenism and then returned to Torah observance with the triumph of the Macabees. When a couple reconciles after a separation, the relationship often becomes one of peaceful coexistence, but the quality of love that they initially had for each other is rarely restored.

“Not so when Jews do teshuvah (repentance — returning to the Almighty and to ways of the Torah). Rambam says that although a sinful person distances himself from God, once he does teshuvah he is near, beloved and dear to God. It is not that God “tolerates” the baal teshuvah (returnee), but rather that He loves him as He would the greatest tzaddik (righteous person). As the prophet says, “I will remember for you the loving-kindness of your youth, when you followed Me into the desert, into a barren land” (Jeremiah 2:2). The love of yore is fully restored.

“This is the significance of the miracle of the oil. It teaches us that with proper teshuvah our relationship with God is restored, as if we had never sinned.

“This is also the message of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph did not simply forgive them and suppress his resentment for their abuse of him. Rather, he loved them and cared for them as if nothing had happened, telling them that he feels toward them as he does to Benjamin, who was not involved in his kidnapping (Rashi, Genesis 45:12).

“The celebration of Chanukah is, therefore, more than the commemoration of a miracle. We are to emulate the Divine attributes (Talmud, Shabbos 133b). Just as when God forgives, His love for us is completely restored — so must we be able to restore the love for one another when we mend our differences.

“As we watch the Chanukah candles, let us think about the light they represent: the bright light of a love that is completely restored!”

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
from Shabbat Shalom Weekly for
Torah Portion Mikeitz

I apologize for the rather lengthy quote from Rabbi Packouz’s article, but it very much speaks to my continuing theme of sin, repentance, and return and also happens to be appropriate as a missive for this third day of Chanukah (as you read this).

One of the great difficulties in making lasting teshuvah (repentance or return to God) is the feeling of being “damaged goods”. Assuming everything R. Packouz wrote in the above-quoted passage is true about God, we still have to face, on a human level, how other people often find it difficult to receive the repentant sinner as if he or she had never sinned. Also, you or I can still feel “dirty” in our sins as we sincerely strive to repent, even though, according to the prophet, our “…sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NASB).

Yes, the good Rabbi is talking about Jewish repentance in his write-up, but by the merit of our Rav, Messiah Yeshua, we also are allowed to repent, turn away from our sins, and return to our God. In this I believe we too will be treated as if we had never sinned. Otherwise, we have no hope.

love-in-lightsAlthough Chanukah commemorates a specific event and miracle exclusive to the Jewish people, it has applications for the rest of us. If the lights of the Chanukah candles can represent “the bright light of a love that is completely restored” between a Jew and his God, it can have the same meaning for all of the non-Jewish disciples of the Master.

The Apostle Paul was quite clear that repentance, atonement, and forgiveness were accessible to Jew and Gentile alike through trust in the accomplished works of Messiah.

Concerning Paul’s declaration of the blessings of Messiah at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch:

When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region.

Acts 13:48-49

And our Master himself said:

“I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 8:11

My family lights the Chanukah menorah for eight nights in our home because my wife and children are Jewish. But if, Heaven forbid, something should happen and I found myself living alone, I could certainly see a continued application in my kindling the Chanukah lights for the sake of the Light of the World (John 8:12).

Chag Sameach Chanukah.

Christmas is Coming! Don’t Panic!

This is the awkward time of year for Messianic believers. Many of us have opted out of Christmas, something our families and friends do not understand. It is inconceivable that anyone who professes faith in Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ) would not celebrate Christmas. It is inconceivable even though December 25th is most definitely not the day of Yeshua’s birth, and even though the customs observed in churches and homes have their origins in decidedly un-Christian pagan celebrations.

-from “Jesus Without Christmas”
published at The Barking Fox
Reblogged at natsab

And so it begins. The annual expression of angst at the approach of perhaps the world’s most well-known religious and secular holiday: Christmas.

I really didn’t think I was going to write about Christmas this year. Frankly, I’ve got too much else going on right now to really care and I have come to a certain peace about it all and no longer feel I have to contend with Christmas, let alone have a panic attack over it.

Yes, back when I was going to church, I’d avoid attending the Sunday services nearest to Christmas as well as all of the other Christmas programming, but that’s not because I felt I’d be tainted with “pagan influences”. After all, there’s no direct Biblical reference to Chanukah, and yet, along with many or most Jewish households, there’s a small but dedicated group of non-Jewish Christians, Messianic Gentiles, and Hebrew Roots believers who light the menorah (also not commanded in the Bible) for eight evenings in commemoration of the defeat of the Greek oppressors by the Maccabees and the rededication of the Temple, as well as to honor the “light of the world” (John 8:12).

It is true that my house is the only one on my block that is mostly dark every evening, surrounded by the more festive lights of our Christmas observing neighbors. But then again, my wife is Jewish and my feelings on the matter aside, it’s perfectly expected that the only special light visible from within our home for the next week or so (as I write this) should be that of the Chanukah candles on our menorah.

But Christmas is less evil than it is a tradition. It’s a terrifically lucrative tradition for retail outlets as events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday indicate. If I have a major objection to Christmas, it is because the holiday has become a symbol of both personal and corporate greed and gluttony, not because I think putting lights on a natural or artificial pine tree is “pagan.”

Most Christians I know are quite aware that Jesus wasn’t born anywhere near December 25th and accept that the date they celebrate the birth of Christ was established by tradition rather than empirical fact. Nevertheless, if Christians choose to become more Christ-like, more generous, giving to the poor, kinder to their neighbor, at this time of year, who am I to complain?

I mean no disrespect to the sensitivities of the author at “The Barking Fox” or Pete at “natsab,” but I really feel the traditional response of Hebrew Roots Gentiles to the advent of Christmas (pun intended) is overblown. Sure, it took my parents a few years to adjust after my wife and I announced we were no longer celebrating Christmas, but they are now perfectly content to send Chanukah cards to us and the kids. I do have some relatives, my brother for instance, who still send Christmas cards, but no one in my family (as far as I know) complains because we don’t reciprocate.

brace yourselfI’m reminded of Toby Janicki’s blog post of four years ago called The Scoop on What About Paganism, a topic he expanded upon greatly in his lecture series “What About Paganism” (available on Audio CD and in MP3 format). Toby coined the term “paganoia” in his lectures, and I think the term is fitting.

The Jewish people I know don’t really have that much of a problem with Christmas beyond having to explain to certain people that Chanukah is not the “Jewish Christmas”. In fact, in cities with a sufficiently large Jewish population, it’s something of a tradition for Jews to go out to Chinese dinner on Christmas Day. This is based on Buddhism being the primary religious expression for many Chinese immigrants which means they aren’t celebrating on December 25th either. I wish I lived in a city that had enough Jewish and Chinese people to make observing this particular tradition practical. It sounds delicious.

Christmas is a tradition. So is Chanukah. They both have their basis in events that took place around two-thousand years ago in another country. They have both been integrated into the Christian and Jewish faiths respectively. Some small number of “Messianic Gentiles” (however you want to define the term) consider themselves caught in the middle, but we aren’t really. There’s nothing wrong with traditions. They are what we make of them.

I’ll be traveling with my parents on Christmas Day, not because it’s Christmas per se, but just because it worked out that way (long story) and Christmas is a great day to be on the road. Not many people going anywhere on December 25th because most of them are already at their destination.

The uptake on all this? Christmas is coming. Don’t panic.

Oh, and my Chanukah related blog post will publish tomorrow morning.

Addendum: I just found a reposting of last year’s blog article Let’s Not Get Strange About Christmas, Shall We? by Rabbi Stuart Dauermann and thought I should add a link to it here. He does a much better job at explaining the “paganoia” around Christmas.

Miketz and Chanukah: The Gift of Light

Joseph of EgyptThey said to one another, “Alas, We are being punished on account of our brother, because we looked on at his anguish, yet paid no heed as he pleaded With us. That is why this distress has come upon us.”

Genesis 42:21 (JPS Tanakh)

What lesson for our lives can we learn from their statement?

Rabbi Dovid of Zeviltov comments in the commentary Otzer Chaim: If a person did something wrong and recognizes that he has done wrong, he will be forgiven. However, if a person does something wrong and denies it, there is no atonement for him. When Joseph’s brothers previously said that they were innocent, Joseph responded by calling them spies. When they said that they were guilty, Joseph was full of compassion for them and cried.

Dvar Torah for Torah Portion Miketz
Based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Related by Rabbi Kalman Packouz

Rabbi Packouz also states that according to Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski in his book Twerski on Chumash, “there is no coincidence that Chanukah occurs during the week that we read about the epic of Joseph and his brothers.” But what can one have to do with the other? What can we learn about ourselves?

Well, for starters:

Many people deny their faults and the things that they have done wrong because they mistakenly think that others will respect them more. In reality people admire someone with the honesty and courage to admit his mistakes. It takes a braver person to say, “Yes, I was wrong.” This kind of integrity will not only build up your positive attribute of honesty, but will also gain you the respect of others. When you apologize to someone for wronging him, he will feel more positive towards you than if you denied that you did anything wrong. This awareness will make it much easier for you to ask forgiveness from others.

The Death of the MasterYesterday was Thanksgiving, an American national holiday dedicated to giving thanks to God for His bountiful goodness to us. All that we have, whether great or small, comes from the Holy One of Israel, the gracious and compassionate Provider and Creator. Even the ability to forgive and be forgiven by God is a blessing for which we should be thankful. Without such a gift, a single sin would forever separate us from God, and condemn us to our doom.

But as Rabbi Pliskin’s Dvar Torah states, we are only forgiven and freed from guilt, slavery, and destruction if we admit to our wrongdoings and ask for forgiveness. Our “free gift,” so to speak, actually comes with a price. True, as a Christian, I believe that the death of the greatest of all tzaddikim, Yeshua of Nazareth, paid that price, but forgiveness of sins is like a package wrapped in bright shiny paper decorated with a pretty bow. It just sits there until we accept it and open it up. To do that, we have to do something else. We have to admit our sins rather than deny them. For when we too say we are guilty, then the Father will welcome us back with open arms.

And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:21-24 (NASB)

But what does any of this have to do with Chanukah?

“Rav Avraham Pam (former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas) teaches us that we see this special love of God for the Jewish people regarding the many Jews at that time who had defected to Hellenism and then returned to Torah observance with the triumph of the Macabees — regarding their relationship with the Almighty after their return to the Torah. When a couple reconciles after a separation, the relationship often becomes one of peaceful coexistence, but the quality of love that they initially had for each other is rarely restored.

“Not so when Jews do teshuvah (repentance — returning to the Almighty and to the ways of the Torah). Rambam says that although a sinful person distances himself from God, once he does teshuvah he is near, beloved and dear to God. It is not that God “tolerates” the baal teshuvah (returnee), but rather that He loves him as He would the greatest tzaddik (righteous person). As the prophet says, “I will remember for you the loving-kindness of your youth, when you followed Me into the desert, into a barren land” (Jeremiah 2:2). The love of yore is fully restored.

“This is the significance of the miracle of the oil. It teaches us that with proper teshuvah our relationship with God is restored, as if we had never sinned.”

chanukah-candle-lightingAs believers, as disciples of Messiah, Son of David, the light of the world, the doorway to the Father, we too have been granted the ability to do teshuvah with the same results. It is not as if we are “damaged goods” that, once broken and dirtied, can only approach God just so far and no further. It’s as if we never left, as if we never sinned, as if we have always lived in the Father’s household as beloved sons and daughters. If I can extend the above commentary, God loves the baal teshuvah as He does His Son, His only Son, the one who saved us and redeemed us at the cost of blood and life.

During this week, people in Jewish homes will be lighting the Chanukah candles in remembrance of the miracle of the oil and the miracle of victory over the Greeks in battle. However, the Chanukah lights and the lesson learned by the brothers of Joseph should remind us of something more. As believers, when we light the menorah, we are reminded of God’s great forgiveness in our lives, and how He literally turned darkness into light in our hearts and souls.

In John 8:12, Jesus declared himself the light of the world. In Matthew 5:14-16 we discover that as his disciples, we too are the light to the world. In Jewish tradition, once the menorah is lit, it should be placed in a window for everyone to see. We too were encouraged to allow our own light to shine into the world, as a message of hope and peace, and as evidence that God does powerful miracles.

Love, hope, and redemption are powerful miracles indeed, and a tiny light shining in the darkness is evidence in our world of an overwhelming brightness shining from the Throne of Heaven.

Happy Chanukah and Good Shabbos.