Posts tagged " Chanukah "

Of Cannibals and Chanukah

December 24th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 13 comments

Let’s use our imaginations for a thought experiment. In 1946, a crew is airlifting the latest model Dodge from Detroit to a car dealership in Brisbane, Australia. On the final leg of its flight the airplane develops engine problems over Papua, New Guinea.  The crew’s only hope is to shove the shiny new sedan out of the ramp at the back of the airplane. In the hope of a possible salvage, they attach a few parachutes to the car which then floats down towards the jungle below. It finally settles right side up in a small clearing outside a Korowai village.  

 The local cannibals generally prevent themselves from becoming the dinner of neighboring villages by building their homes high up in trees. On this day, however, one Korowai chief takes refuge in the Dodge, laughing delightedly as his enemies’ arrows bounce harmlessly off the car.  

I presented you with this little thought experiment only to ask you this question:  Language difficulties aside, is there any way you’d be able to explain to that cannibal chief that in using the motorcar as a fort, he is not making the best use of the Dodge sedan?  

He has never seen a car before and he has no idea of what gasoline might be. After all, the Korowai people never even encountered a westerner or a wheeled wagon until about 1970. No, there is nothing you could say that would convince  our mid-20th century cannibal chief that he is wasting a huge asset.

Anyone assuming that the Bible is no more than a simple story about long ago people and their anachronistic beliefs is making a similar  mistake to that of the Korowai chief living in his Dodge. If we were to inform the Papuan primitive that by using his new fortress properly he could effortlessly transport himself and a handful of his warriors to Port Moresby, he’d blink at us in clueless incomprehension.  If we were to inform our Bible illiterate that the volume he disparages not only relates information from the past, but it also reveals data on events that have not yet happened, he’d look like the twin brother of our New Guinea native. 

The festival now being celebrated, Chanukah, provides an excellent example of this Biblical phenomenon. In his sublime ignorance, our scriptural skeptic is quite certain that Chanukah is a “post-Biblical minor celebration.” While it is true that the central historical events of Chanukah occurred about 1,000 years after the death of Moses, the seeds of that historical event are planted in the Bible. 

Leviticus 23 lists all the festivals in order through the Jewish calendar year.  Each is allocated its own “paragraph” in the unique graphical layout of the Torah. The festival of Tabernacles (Sukot) which occurs in autumn is treated in  Leviticus 23:33-44. The very next paragraph is devoted to an instruction to use pure olive oil to light a menorah. It starts off describing one flame, corresponding to the first night of Chanukah, (Leviticus 24:2) and ends with, “..he shall arrange the flames (plural) upon the menorah…(Leviticus 24:4).  Those flames were activated after the historical events of Chanukah and to this day we add an additional flame on each of the eight nights.

Years before the Greek invasion of Israel,   Daniel provided King Nebuchadnezzar with a prophecy about several subsequent empires. Each was represented by a different metallic element such as iron, gold, silver and copper.  (Some translations mistakenly render NeCHoSHeT as bronze or brass.)  

But another kingdom will arise after you, inferior to yours; then yet a third kingdom, of copper,
which will rule over the whole earth.

(Daniel 2:39)

The empire referred to as copper is Greece, the antagonist of Jerusalem in the Chanukah account.  Each time copper is mentioned in Scripture, an aspect of Greek domination is being referenced. 

With this in mind, we can look at these words having to do with vessels in the Tabernacle: .  “…shall be of copper.” (Exodus 27:19) The very next verse reads: “You shall instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling the lamps regularly.”  (Exodus 27:20) Again we see lighting olive oil referring to the yet-to-be events of Chanukah, when the light will overwhelm the darkness brought on by Greece.

Here is one more Biblical reference to Chanukah. Every number possesses a specific significance in ancient Jewish wisdom. The number 25 always alludes to the Festival of Light. In fact the final syllable of the word Chanukah actually means 25.  It is no coincidence that Chanukah is the only festival in the Hebrew calendar that falls on the 25th day of the month. In that context, are you surprised to hear that the 25th word of the Bible is the word, OHR—light? 

 “God said, “Let there be light”
(Genesis 1:3)

It is through these and several other similar hints and allusions that we see that Chanukah, far from being solely a historical event, is actually part of the Bible’s depiction of how we humans are to relate to the electromagnetic phenomenon known as light. Light is always to be contrasted with darkness as metaphors for good and evil. We are always to be reminded that the stygian gloom of bad times can be dispelled by even one small ray of light. A tiny flame fed by pure olive oil has the power to push back the darkness of evil. If we celebrate Chanukah solely as a depiction of a historical conflict, or even as a remembrance of a miraculous military victory and subsequent miracle with oil, we are making the same error as our Korowai chief. The holiday will benefit us, but nowhere near to its fullest potential. 

If you wish to explore how this message can impact you, we invite you to find out more in our audio CD, Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life. It remains on sale through the holiday.

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Hey Buddy, Got a Light?

December 16th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 25 comments

What three changes could you institute that would improve your life? Most people know exactly what they ought to do and what they ought to stop doing that would make their lives better. Which begs the question—why don’t we just go ahead and do these things?

The answer is what I call “The Force of Darkness.” Understanding and learning to conquer this sinister force is so important that God introduces us to this primeval darkness and general chaos no later than the second verse of Genesis.

According to ancient Jewish wisdom this verse reveals a dark force built into the universe that attempts to combat progress towards improving our lives. This is why it is harder to diet, exercise, and grow thin than it is to sit around, eat, and grow fat. This is why it is harder to save and invest than it is to spend and consume or to educate one’s self and improve one’s career rather than to seek entertainment. This is why self-discipline is harder than indulgence or why it is harder to build a marriage than it is to destroy one. In other words, keeping the flame burning is just plain hard. It is far easier to sit back and allow darkness to win.

If the problem is darkness, surely the antidote is light—which brings us to Chanukah, the festival of light.

Many mistakenly think that Chanukah is a post-Biblical rabbinical holiday. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, its roots lie in the Torah and within the prophecies of Hagai and Zecharia centuries before the historic events.

Many mistakenly think that Chanukah exists because about 2,160 years ago the Hasmonean Maccabees won an extraordinary military victory over the Greeks and Jewish Hellenists. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, one of the reasons the loyal and faithful Jews were able to win the war was because it was fought on the days already prophetically preordained for light to defeat darkness.

Many mistakenly think that Chanukah is an annual holiday celebrated by playing silly games while eating oily potato latkes. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, just as ranchers must vaccinate their livestock each year to keep them healthy, Chanukah is an annual vaccination of light to keep ourselves healthy enough to dispel darkness.

On the first night of Chanukah we light one flame. We add a flame each successive night until we have a glorious extravaganza of light emanating from our menorah on the eighth night. Why don’t we increase the total light on this holiday by kindling eight flames every night?

Simple arithmetic reveals that lighting correctly requires a total of 36 flames. It is no coincidence that the word light appears 36 times in the Torah. It is also no coincidence that the first word in the Bible possessing the numerical value of 36 is the Hebrew word meaning “Where are you?” which God asks Adam after his sin. You see, in Hebrew, each letter has a numerical value and the four letters of that word have the values of 1; 10; 20; and 5 for a total of 36.

א    י    כ    ה

5 + 20 + 10 + 1

Needless to say, God knows where Adam is hiding. The question was not an attempt to discover Adam’s physical whereabouts but instead it was God admonishing Adam to reflect on his spiritual condition.

That word echoes down the ages as God asks each one of us every day, “Where are you?” The message of the 36 bright flames, increasing by one each night, is that you dispel darkness by achieving just a bit more today than you did yesterday. Remaining in one place is just a slower way of moving in the wrong direction. Staying the same is an illusion, not reality. That is simply the way God created the world.

For more messages from Chanukah that will light up your life, listen to our audio CD, Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life. Reduced for a Chanukah special, it may be the best $5 investment you can make this week!

An earlier version of this teaching appeared inThought Tools Volume 2.

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Flames, Family and Finance

December 10th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 13 comments

In which countries is it easiest to form a new business?  You’d think that with more than two-hundred years of entrepreneurial culture, the United States would rank fairly high.  And we did.  Until about 1962, starting a new business in the United States was quicker, cheaper, and easier than anywhere else.  Not surprisingly, the country enjoyed the highest rate of new business startups of anywhere in the world.

However, since then, America has been steadily slipping and sliding down the rankings until today the country ranks behind Poland, Lithuania, New Zealand, Singapore and about ten others.  Concurrently however, over the same fifty years, the number of U.S. government programs taxing money away from those who work for it and offering it to others has skyrocketed.   It is made available almost on request in the form of cash, free food, free cell phones, free housing certificates, and so on to almost everyone who applies. 

Not only has the number of give-away programs soared, but it has become ever easier to join the ranks of the receivers.  Why would a society of rational people make it harder for folks to start businesses and easier to become dependent upon one’s fellow citizens?

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Pearl Harbor, Chanukah and the Greatest Generation

December 6th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 15 comments

Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and continues for eight days. Because its date depends on the lunar rather than the solar calendar, in some years, Chanukah overlaps with Thanksgiving while on others it coincides with Christmas. This year, the fifth day of Chanukah lines up with the anniversary of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

In a special prayer we say each day of Chanukah we thank God for handing victory to a small, dedicated group who went to battle against the mightiest empire of the day. As part of that battle, they also faced internal opposition from the Hellenists, who were Jews who succumbed to the appeal of Greek culture.  These Hellenistic Jews wanted their faithful brethren also to abandon God.

An unusual rule surrounds the lights of Chanukah that are kindled each of the eight nights of the holiday. Before you can light the flames, there must already be light in the room. The Chanukah lights cannot be used for utilitarian purposes. The menorah beckons us to have vision, not to limit ourselves to what is within our sight. Before we can tap into the miracle of oil that burned beyond its physical ability, we have to prepare the room.

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Fat is Fine

December 4th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

John Steinbeck’s 1937 short novel, Of Mice and Men, always brings a lump to my throat.  It tells the story of two migrant farm workers, George and Lennie, during the Depression.  Attempting to summarize it here would be futile.  It would also be a crime against great writing.  If you’ve never read it, I recommend you do so soon. For now, I quote a brief exchange that occurs in chapter three:

“Lennie drummed on the table with his fingers.  “George?”

“Huh?”

“George, how long’s it gonna’ be till we get that little place an’ live on the fatta the land, an’ rabbits?”

You’ll have to read it to find out about the rabbits, but George and Lennie sustain themselves with their dream of their own little farm where they’ll live in comparative luxury.  Living on the fat of the land is an expression used widely in English literature and is correctly attributed to Pharaoh’s speech to Joseph in the Bible.

…and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you will eat of the fat of the land. (Genesis 45:18)

But this is not the first time in the Bible that the phrase ‘fat of the land’ is used.  Many chapters earlier, Isaac evokes it when he blesses his two sons, Jacob and Esau.

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Learning from all Cultures

December 20th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 15 comments

As a Bible believer, is it best for us to follow only Biblical guidelines rather than learning the positive values from other cultures, such as Japanese or Chinese cultural values? I thought this would enrich our lives as well as our Biblical learning, but may not be what the Bible guidelines suggest us to do.

Thank you as always, Rabbi Lapin.

Dear Filemon,

You do ask interesting questions. This question is particularly apt because we are answering your question today, which is the eighth and final day of Chanukah. Despite popular attempts to make the historical battle of Chanukah sound politically correct by portraying it just as a long-ago fight for religious freedom, the holiday actually represents, for all time, the internal battle between those faithful to their faith and those who want to resculpt their faith to fit into the popular culture.

The dominant culture of that time was (Syrian-Greek) Hellenism and many Jews became Hellenists.  As a matter of fact, the ancient historian Josephus records how the most popular cosmetic surgery back then, twenty-one hundred years ago, was Hellenized Jews undergoing foreskin restoration procedures. 

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Sagittarius Surprises

December 19th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

Before dawn, Jerry Westfield and his two excited boys boarded their runabout at Ala Wai Harbor.  Stowing the fishing gear along with their lunch, Jerry yanked the cord and started the Evinrude outboard while his sons tossed the mooring lines onto the dock.

The black sky turned to cloudless cobalt as they slipped out to sea, past the enormous gray hulls of the battleships lying quietly at anchor. It was going to be a glorious day of fishing and their spirits rose along with the sun. The fish were already biting, and the glinting windows of distant Waikiki Beach hotels seemed to be applauding their prowess.  All was well until eight o’clock that morning, December 7, 1941.

To remind oneself of how quickly circumstances can deteriorate, one doesn’t need to reflect back seventy years.  A little over sixteen years ago, on a sunny Tuesday morning in September, the lives of every American changed for the worse.  Most of us can easily identify a moment in our own lives that dashed our dreams.

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Prosperity Power

December 2nd, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Tonight, I will not be counting my money by the light of the Chanukah candles. Nor will I do so on any of the remaining evenings of this eight day festival. Unlike the Sabbath candles or the candles for other holydays, these Chanukah flames must not be used for any other purpose.  For instance, you cannot read a book in the room containing the Chanukah lights unless another light is present.  By way of warning, ancient Jewish wisdom insists that the light of the Chanukah candles may not be used even for as important an idea as counting one’s money.  Excuse me! Shouldn’t it have said for learning Torah or studying with one’s children? Who would have thought of counting money in the first place?

In one further apparent nod to monetary awareness Chanukah is the only occasion in the Jewish year on which it is customary to give money as a gift.  Unique to this holiday, children are given gifts of money as an incentive and reward for studying God’s word. Though the precise origins are shrouded in mystery, there are even grounds for seeing the first syllable of the word Chanukah as the etymological source of the English word ‘coin’. 

In another apparent recognition of the importance of earning money, ancient Jewish wisdom marks the correct time for the lighting of the candles in an unusual manner.  While tradition usually mandates observances according to sunset or using other clock-related ways, we are told to light the Chanukah candles, the holiday's main observance, while people are in the streets heading home from their day’s work.

What is this Chanukah connection with money and work? We get a clue from the fact that it is the only Jewish festival of the year on which there is no religious restraint or even suggestion against working at one’s everyday job.

The answer becomes clearer when we realize that not only must the main religious ritual, the Chanukah lights, be singularly dedicated to the holiday itself, but the name of the holiday even means dedication.

One of Chanukah’s central themes is the fundamental idea that dedication to God must come first. Everything else in our lives needs to be judged through that prism. However, dedication to God does not mean isolating oneself from other people or divorcing oneself from economic effort and achievement.  Rather the contrary.  God is delighted by the sight of humans connecting with each other, establishing families and communities. He also delights in seeing us serving the needs of other humans just as we thrill at seeing our own children taking care of one another. On Chanukah, we integrate those parts of our lives which we sometimes mistakenly see as conflicting rather than complementary.

People are usually comfortable and even proud when talking about how they help others through charitable giving.  And giving charity is wonderful. Yet providing others, in an ethical and open marketplace, with things and services they need is also praiseworthy.  Providing for one’s family through honest enterprise is noble and part of God’s plan for humanity. During Chanukah we weave money and the marketplace into our celebrations. So, though I won’t be counting my money using the Chanukah lights, it is perfectly reasonable that I might have thought of doing so.

P.S. Last week in the Thought Tool entitled “No Thank-you” I wrote that nowhere in the Five Books of Moses does anyone say the words, thank-you. As many alert readers pointed out, a perfectly legitimate translation of Genesis 29:35 has Leah giving thanks to God and naming her fourth son Judah. Of course, as the Thought Tool indicated, this naming of her son was also an action rather than merely a verbal utterance.

My wife and I would like to take this opportunity of wishing all our Jewish subscribers a joyously happy Chanukah, a time of light defeating darkness, a time for gratitude and praise to God, and a time for economic success.

TO READ ABOUT RABBI DANIEL LAPIN BOOKS AND CD'S – INCLUDING HIS NEW PROSPERITY POWER AUDIO CDS – AS WELL AS APPEARANCES AND SPECIAL OFFERS, OR TO SIGN UP FOR THOUGHT TOOLS SEE: www.rabbidaniellapin.com.

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