hanukiya.gif (10400 bytes)

Shabbat Khanukkah  5756


  2157 years ago Judah Maccabbee and his rag-tag army entered Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple. As they kindled the eternal lamp for the first time they offered a prayer of thanksgiving: "Al hanisim ve'al hanifla'ot ve'al hat'shu'ot ve'al hamilkhamot - for the miracles and for the wonders and for saving us in all the battles..." The exploits of these heroes can be read in the Books of Maccabbees -- which did not become part of our Scriptures.

  Some two hundred years later came the destruction of Jerusalem in the great revolt against Rome, followed by the age of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zaka’y and of the great Talmudic scholars, and a different theme became current. Listen to the words of Pirkey Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers:

  "Ben Zoma taught: Who is wise? One who learns from all persons, as it is written, "From all my teachers have I gained understanding" (Psalm 119:99).

  Who is heroic? One who conquers his evil impulse, as it is written, "He who is slow to anger is better than the hero, and he who rules over his spirit than he who conquers a city" (Proverbs 16:32).

  Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion, as it is written, "When you eat the labor of your hands, happy will you be and all will be well with you" (Psalm 128:2)"

  Judah, indeed, is an ancient hero in a "modern" mold -- like Ulysis Grant or Dwight Eisenhower in our country, Charles DeGaul in France, Moshe Dayan or Ariel Sharon in Israel -- a military genius who is victorious in war and who becomes a popular statesman after the battle is won.However, Juda's influence on Jewish history is not reflected in the words in Pirkey Avot. Why?

  Ben Zoma teaches us the art of the possible. He is not Don Quixote, striving to reach the unreachable star -- he is a teacher of humility, who transmits the message that "he who learns from all" may live long enough to acquire, and learn from, wise and learned teachers; he who is happy with his portion, even if his portion is meager, or if his hard earned spoils are taken, will remain happy and will not lose heart; and as for the mighty, the hero and the role figure -- the greatest strength is that strength which is not spent. Even the fury and might of a cataclysmic storm, like the hurricane Andrew that we experience in Florida recently, once gone, is nothing more than a path of devastation and sorrow.

  Let 's note that even while we laud Juda's victory and his dedication, we choose to ignore that part of the story where he was betrayed by a people tired of and sickened by war; we refused to consider that he may have done us more harm than good. By personal example he taught generations yet to come the art of revolt and of resistance -- and, in so doing, doomed them to slavery, exile and death. Maybe that is why his "books" were "shelved!"

  Today, in a world as different from the Greco-Roman world as to be considered its anti-theses, we can once again resurrect Judah as a hero and a role model. Yes, there is a time for maccabbees -- but the real hero is not the flash of lightening. The real hero is the still waters, the slow current that digs deep because it is steady and constant. Certainly, Judaism survived because of Judah -- in his moment. It survived the millenia, though, because of unsung heroes like Aaron, who loved peace and sought peace; Rabbi Hillel who preached kindness, and countless characters like Tevyah the milkman from Anatevka, who plodded along and accepted the burden of tradition. In the final analysis, the words of Zechariah (4:6) reverberate with the profound and everlasting truth, "Not by might, and not by strength, but by My spirit saith the Lord of hosts. Lo bekha'yil velo bko'akh ki im b'rukhi amar Adona'y."






This evening and tomorrow we rejoice both in the joy of Shabbat and the merriment of Khanukkah. Since The Festival of Lights is celebrated for eight days, and Shabbat comes every seven days, there is a "Shabbat Khanukkah" every year. However, this is the second Shabbat Khanukkah this year — and that does not happen very often! On this shabbat we read in the Torah from the book of Genesis, chapter 41, beginning with the words, "And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed..."

Since time immemorial people have given accounts of having had dreams. We now know that during sleep the brain goes through cyclic periods of rest and activity when a stage is set, on which unfolds a story or sequence of events. These episodes are common and necessary for us to remain balanced and mentally healthy – and they are most commonly called "dreams." They are illustrations or illusions of our real experiences or they may be hallucinations of desired experiences. What type of reality they express is difficult to decipher. Most dreams are not recollected when we awaken.

What dreams signify has puzzled mankind for thousands of years. In the ancient world dreams were often considered prophetic. Homer’s ‘Iliad’ contains a passage in which King Agamemnon is visited in a dream by an emissary of the chief Greek Deity, Zeus, who thus prescribes the king’s future actions. The Torah is filled with accounts of prophetic dreams, the most famous of which, with out a doubt, is Father Jacob’s dream of the Angels Ascending and Descending. This is not the first account of a dream, though – it is preceded by the dream of Abimelekh, king of the city of Grar, who appropriates Abraham’s wife, claimedby him as a sister, for himself. God appeared to him in a dream, warned him that she is, in fact, Abraham’s wife, and that God protects both the man and his wife! When Judaism was formalized, in the Desert, Moses warned the Israelites: "What ever I command you, take care to do it; you shall not add to it, nor diminish from it. If there arises among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or a wonder,

And the sign or the wonder, comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, Let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and let us serve them; You shall not listen to the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God tests you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and you shall serve him, and hold fast to him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he has spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to thrust you out of the way which the Lord your God commanded you to walk in. So shall you purge the evil away from the midst of you." [Deu. 13:1-6]

Of course, no less well known is the account we read last week of Joseph’s dreams and the dreams of Pharaoh’s servants, or the ones we read this week, Pharaoh’s dreams that Joseph is called to interpret. In some ancient cultures dreams were considered a reflection of reality, a means to convey the truth about one’s life that cannot be seen in day-to-day living. There is archeological evidence of dream investigation and interpretation in Nineveh, which was a civilization in Mesopotamia, as well as in ancient India, and in Egypt. The "wise men of Egypt" were masters of interpreting dreams – except, of course, for the ones about fat and lean cows, and fat and lean ears of grain...

On the other hand, dreams have also been viewed, by many sceptics, as nothing more than extensions of the waking state, a carryover into sleep of what a person has thought about or experienced while awake. These sceptics have claimed that dreams are mere flim-flam, the stuff of fairy-tales and children’s stories. They remind us of ‘Don Quixote de la Mancha’ — the Spanish hero of a story by Cervantes. Quixote was a poor gentleman of La Mancha, the bare and monotonous plateau of central Spain. He read so many imaginary tales of exaggerated romances and chivalry of his day that he finally "went over the edge," and believed them to be true. One day he departed his home as a knight-errant on his old horse, Rosinante, with a shrewd, good-natured peasant of his village, Sancho Panza, as his squire. Don Quixote regarded everything he saw as extraordinary. Inns were castles, windmills were giants, and servant girls of doubtful virtue were great ladies to be protected and loved from afar. The word "quixotic" has entered our vocabulary as a term meaning impractical and idealistic, and the phrase "tilting at a windmill" has come to mean a fight against an imaginary difficulty, through Cervantes’ immortal fiction. Yet to the sceptic, "Quixotic" has also come to mean foolish and unrealistic, a little bizarre and maybe even unbalanced and crazy. The sceptics quote Ecclesiastes, chapter 5, verses 1 and 2: "Be not rash with your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter any thing before God; for God is in heaven, and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes through a multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by a multitude of words."

One of the best-known modern theories of dreams was set forth by Sigmund Freud in his book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, which was published in 1899. Freud was born on May 6, 1856, in Freiberg, Moravia (now Pribor, Czech Republic), the son of a Jewish wool merchant. His family moved to Vienna, Austria, when he was 4. He entered the University of Vienna medical school in 1873, and received his degree in medicine in 1881. After serving as intern and resident physician in a hospital, he further studied the nervous system. In 1885 he was awarded a fellowship for a year’s study in Paris. There he worked under Jean-Martin Charcot, a leading authority on hysteria. He returned to Vienna in 1886 and began medical practice, specializing in nervous diseases. The case histories of Freud’s patients provided material for brilliant investigations. He became convinced that sexual causes played a major role in many forms of neurosis. He developed the theory known as the Oedipus complex, which focuses on emotional and sexual complications between parents and children. This theory of his was fully described in‘The Interpretation of Dreams.’ He asserted that the feelings and wishes that are repressed in wakeful thought, particularly those associated with sex and hostility, are released in dreams. Some people dream to resolve conflicts in their daily life.

With the great strides in brain-based research, in our own time, we know that absolutely everybody dreams. We dream to remain mentally healthy. We dream to avoid becoming depressed and detached from our surroundings. Some people dream to resolve or sublimate their most secret fears or desires. Still others, a precious few, have dreams that somehow seem to foretell the future. These few may seem "Quixotic" and foolish, ‘out to fight the windmills’ – but actually they are visionaries whose dreams are interpreted by-and-by as blueprints for better living, more noble existence and a greater benefit for all humanity. Last week’s portion told us of Joseph’s dreams, in which he had been shown what he believed to be his future: he stood above his brothers, ruling over them; or, in another dream, his whole family, father, father’s wives and all his siblings, paid him homage. Joseph, alone of all his eleven siblings, had these dreams, and had the ambition burning in him to make the dreams come true.

The Hebrew Scriptures mention dreams sixty-eight times. Of these, the book of Daniel contains twenty-eight mentions. Daniel is, without a doubt, the most mystical of the books of our tradition. Yet another mystical book, Job, mentions dreams only twice! Still, it is in Job that we find these profound verses: "For God speaks once, twice, yet man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, while they slumber on their beds; Then he opens the ears of men, and with discipline seals their instruction, that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keeps back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword." [33:14-18]

Mattatyahu Hasmonaen was a high priest of the family of Aaron. He was an old man, retired from public service and living in a small hamlet the hills of Judea north of Jerusalem, called Modi’in. He saw the glory of Torah and the prestige of the priesthood violated in an orgy of popular ‘Hellenistic’ modernization of life in the ancient homeland of the Jews. He dreamed of days of old, and he dreamed for his five sons a life fulfilling the words of the prophet, each living under his vine and under his fig tree. Peace on earth, good will towards men. But this dream was of his own making, it was not a prophetic dream placed there by God. The Lord had a different fate in mind for the old priest. The Greeks came to his village and asked him to cooperate and collaborate with them in their homage to the Greek king, Antiochus, and his God, Zeus. Mattetyahu would not countenance such apostasy, and when a Hellenized Jew who was brought in by the soldiers to do the dirty deed if the old priest chose to refuse stepped forward, Mattetyahu slew the. Who would have dreamed that the old priest, a man of peace in the winter of his years, would spark a revolt. His sons jumped the soldiers and killed them, and Mattetyahu raised the banner of revolt with the words ‘Mi Ladona’y Ela’y!’ – whom so ever is for God, let him follow me! His middle son, Yehuda, in the needs of the hour, became a brilliant general of the rebel army that fought the seasoned mercenaries of the Greek king and opened the road to reclaim the defiled capital and the Temple within it. Yehuda did not have an inkling of a dream that his choice of a verse from the Song of the Sea, "Mi Kamokha Ba’elim Adona’y" – ‘who is like you among the gods, Oh Lord,’ would bestow upon him the name ‘maccabee,’ and that he would go down in history as the first freedom fighter of all times!

Joseph had a vision of the future, and he recognized that this prescience will come true. He recognized the same message of coming events in Pharaoh’s dream — and he knew how to prepare for that future. In our own times visionaries have dreamed of our people’s re-emergence as a nation in our own homeland, Eretz Yisrael. When Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, David Ben-Gurion and others began to speak and work for the realization of their dream, many thought of them as "Quixotic" — but they persevered. Their purpose prospered, their dreams came true. Our dreams, if they are God inspired, will also be realized — if we dedicate ourselves to their cause.





Va’yeshev 5761 - Shabbat Khanukah 5761


This is a special Shabbat, as you can tell at once when you sit in the sanctuary looking at the gleaming lights not only of Shabbat candles but also the Khanukkah candles. Khanukkah, unlike our major holidays, does not require a “special reading in the Torah, and so this week’s portion of the Torah, Va’yeshev, is the one that follows last week’s portion, and tells the story of our patriarch Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, and the many ups and downs in his life. Though the portion begins with the words, “And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old...” [Gen 37:1] one should really start reading the story in chapter 15, “And he said to Abram, Know for a certainty that your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great wealth.” [Gen. 15:13,14] Commentary tells us that the Children of Israel were destined to go down to Egypt and become slaves to Pharaoh so as to have the experience of servitude in their communal memory. One cannot appreciate liberty and emancipation fully if one does not have the experience of captivity and bondage in one’s background.

Similarly, our sages have taught that the events of Khanukkah were also foretold. The holiday is also called “Khag Ha’urim” – the Festival of Lights. We celebrate the rededication of the Temple of God in the twenty fifth day of the third month. In the ‘numerology’ of Torah text, we count the words of the first chapter of Genesis, the story of creation. The story begins with the words, “Beresheet Bara Elohim” – In-the-beginning [one word] created Elohim [the heaven and the earth]. The third word is God. If you continue to count the words in the Hebrew, you will find “[22]Va’yomer (and said) [23] Elohim [24] yehi (let there be) [25] or (light)...” the twnety fifth word is or - light! The Hebrew word for light is made up of three letters, alef, with a value of one; vav, with a value of six; resh, with a value of two hundred. Adding the three letters’ value you get two hundred and seven. Two plus seven is nine. Light is considered the “power of God” – we call it “or hash’khina” - the light of God’s presence. The names of God, “Eh’ye” [from Exodus 3:14] – ‘I am [that I am]’. The value of alef heh yod heh is 21 which reduces to three. So, the Lord, with the value of three, is related to light, with a value of nine, in that the first is the square root of the other. God is the square root of light. From the first, to the power of two, comes the second.

All light flows from God. Light is so much more than that which makes possible vision. Light is a manifestation of energy. Particles of energy traveling at a specific speed, as visible as light. Enlightenment is the elevation of humanity from its earthly, animalistic existence to a more lofty and noble state of being. God is not only the master of creation – he is also most perfect positive presence. He is master of everything Good. One of my teachers used to say to his students again and again, “If ever in your study you conclude that God is wrong or evil, reexamine your argument - because you have made a mistake somewhere in your reasoning. God is not capable of evil. Either you don’t understand the deed, or you have ascribed an evil deed to the wrong source.”

May the spirit of God enlighten our lives each and every day that He has given us even as the candles of Khanukkah give forth their light, increasing night after night. May the idea of rededication, and the battle of the Maccabees with complete faith in the delivering power of the Almighty who can tip the scales of victory to favor the few against the multitude, renew our resolve to remain vigilant in the just cause of redeemed Israel in our own days. May His light be seen by all, and may all mankind walk by His beacon to His ‘promised land’ of peace for all His children in a world that beats the spears into pruning hooks and learns war no more.


Shabbat Khanukkah Miketz

We are celebrating the second Khanukkah Shabbat - an event that does not happen very often. You all know that Khanukkah recalls the events of the revolt of the Jews against the Greek Assyrians in the second century before the common era. What can we say of this revolt? Personally, I always think about it as the dress-rehearsal for the American revolution. The maccabbean war was unlike any before – and for eighteen hundred years after it ended. It was not waged to conquer territory nor for the spoils of war – nor was it purely a war to defend a nation from an encroaching foe or an enemy seeking to take over the land and exile or wipe out the population. Judea, the homeland of the Jews, had been vanquished by its Babylonian enemies more than three hundred years before the evens we are speaking of. The Jews were exiled and later allowed to return to their land by the Persian ruler who conquered Babylon. The Jewish homeland was a vassal state of Persia, which was in turn conquered by Alexander the Great and his Greek empire.
Alexander was an amazing phenomenon in the history of the world. He was a brilliant military man - but he was educated by the finest Greek philosopher, Aristotle. Under Aristotle, Alexander learned philosophy, ethics, politics, and healing, all of which became of the utmost importance for Alexander in his all too short life. Unlike his teacher, Alexander was open to ideas that were not Greek in origin. Thus, when arriving in Judea at the head of his army, he had heard of the Hebrew scriptures and held the Jews in great respect. He entered the capital, Jerusalem, on foot, claiming to come as a pilgrim rather than a conqueror. The Jews loved his gesture – and became steadfast supporters. By age thirty Alexander had established the largest empire of the ancient world to his time, and his culture, called Hellenism, became universally accepted as "the world standard"– even though he allowed his subjects total freedom of choice in their religion and culture.
Hellenism was the absolute worst thing that could have happened to Judaism! I say this strictly from a Jewish point of view – it is not a critique of Christianity nor of Alexander. Judaism had existed for two thousand years, and had a deep commitment to the teaching of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of all humanity. Hellenism taught a "philosophy" that was attractive but with no real values. One of my teachers summed it up by saying that Hellenism believed that what was beautiful was good while Judaism taught that what was good was beautiful. The difference is profound!
Unfortunately, many Jews became blinded by the glitter of Greek culture. Assimilation into the ways of the Greeks was rampant - especially among the rich and the politically connected among the Jews. Because Hellenism was so open and permissive, these Hellenized Jews wished to take some of their "old" culture with them into their new existence. They translated the Hebrew Scriptures, the Torah, the prophets and the writings into Greek. However, they were not expert in the Greek tongue - and in their assimilation had forgotten some of their Hebrew. The translation, known as "Septuagint," was a source of misunderstanding between Jews that led eventually to a schism between the Hellenists and the faithful, who were known as "Khassidim." These, by the way, are not the same as modern day "Khassidim."
Alexander died unexpectedly at age thirty three - he may well have been assassinated. His empire was split in three, the southern empire, led by Ptholmy in Egypt; the northern empire led by Antiochus in Assyria (which was actually centered in Turkey) – and the Greek islands and mainland. The land of the Jews was in the border area between north and south. It was first ruled from Egypt, and then by the northern empire.
The Hellenist Jews resented and even hated their fellow-Jews who remained faithful to the old ways. It was they who came to the emperor of the north and suggested that he "unite his empire" by forcing all to Hellenize – forbidding the use of Hebrew and the study of the Hebrew scriptures. The Khassidim, being peace-loving by conviction, stuck to their faith and did not oppose the soldiers that came to execute them for breaking the king's new law. Until a small detachment came to Modiin, some fifteen miles north of Jerusalem. There, an old Levite, of the family of Aaron, the High Priest, named Mattityahu, and his five sons lived. The old priest refused to worship the Greek idols, and when the soldiers attempted to have a Hellenist offer a sacrifice to Zeus in the market place, Mattityahu killed him, his sons killed the soldiers of the small detachment that had come to the village, and the war was joined.
The damage of the Greek culture goes far beyond the Khanukkah issue. The Greek translation of the Tanakh caused the rise of Christianity as a "new testament" and a "new Israel." This new religion misunderstood many of the teachings of our Tanakh, and saw us as competitors for the favor of God, and as enemies of their way of worship and of their God. Because of their enmity to Judaism, the next religion to come out of the same roots, Islam, also became inimical to Judaism. The basic teaching of our Torah, that God is universal and father to all mankind, was lost to the world for two thousand years, and the sword ate incessantly both Jews and their enemies in a frenzy of inhumanity that is still not over.
Which brings me to the portion of the Torah which we read this week. The Torah tells us the continuing saga of the life of Joseph, whom his brothers called, derisively, "this dreamer." [Gen. 37:19] Joseph, the obnoxious favorite of his father, who because of his nature – and his brothers lack of fraternal fidelity – ended up a slave in Egypt. The same qualities that brought him to the Egyptian prison also set him free. He was a dreamer – and he understood the dreams of others. He interpreted the dream of Pharaoh, and he knew how to act upon the message of the dream. He kept his integrity in his low estate, and he knew how to conduct himself to gain the respect and trust of the ruler of Egypt. Talent was there, evidently – but so was his Abrahamic faith. He was the first"blessing"to come to a nation from the "seed of Abraham" – even as God had promised our father when He took him out of Ur. Joseph's successful planning for Egypt put him in place to help his brothers when the famine hit the Land of Canaan.
It has been the same ever since, wherever Jews were given a chance to live their lives as Jews and contribute to society at large we have been a blessing to the nations. Jews remained literate in the dark ages – and kept the books of the Vatican. Jews contributed to the discovery of the new world - Columbus had a Jewish cartographer (map maker) and a Jewish interpreter. Jews collected the money to pay the ransom to save Richard the Lion-heart. More Jews have won the Nobel prize than any other ethnic, religious or national group by proportion to their numbers in world population. Time Magazine's "man of the century" upon whose discoveries and teachings modern science and industry is based is non else but Albert Einstein. Science, music, art, literature, even sports have seen their Jewish star performers. We have contributed out of all proportion to our small numbers in the world. All we need is to be faithful to our God, to our teachings that come from that God. We are still the people who believe that what is good is beautiful, and the world is a better place for it.




Return Home of more Offerings