Posts tagged " Chanukah "

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. 

However, the Syrian-Greeks did not, like other cultures, want to exterminate Jews.  They didn’t even demand an abandonment of Judaism. They demanded that Judaism become subservient. If a conflict existed between their values and Judaism, Torah, the constitution of Judaism, took second place. (I’m sure you see the parallels to today.)  For instance, as we hinted at earlier, Hellenists saw the body as perfect and the gymnasium as a temple, thus they forbade circumcision.  Loyal and faithful Hebrews continued to maintain that ritual.  The Maccabees , those who fought the battle, insisted that in every way, Torah values are always paramount. 

However, we don’t reject every idea of Hellenism outright. In Genesis 9:27, God blesses the father of the Greek nation with a gift for beauty. However, and this is vital, He praises it when it “dwells in the tents of Shem.”  In other words, ancient Jewish wisdom recognizes that there are legitimate values to be found in the nations, meaning nations other than those who follow the Torah. The primary condition for accessing that wisdom is that it must always be viewed through the prism of Torah; the Torah mustn’t be judged through its prism.

Today, for instance, in several cultures gender is viewed as fluid and subject to an individual’s choice.  Measured against Scripture’s, “Male and female He created them,” we have to reject the popular view as false.  It’s as if we have a foolproof nonsense detector which we can use to measure the value and authenticity of all ideas.

Not only is there no need to reject learning from many cultures; it would be foolish to do so. However, to explore the values of other cultures one has to feel secure in judging all aspects of those cultures against the Truth and rejecting any ideas that conflict with God’s vision, no matter how tempting, rational or popular they may sound.

Enjoy your studies,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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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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