Ready for per­fec­tion

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIONS - • YAIR SIL­VER­MAN The writer is a rabbi and the direc­tor of Moed, a non­profit based in Zichron Ya’acov that con­nects sec­u­lar and re­li­gious Jews to en­gage one an­other in Jewish texts and so­cial ac­tion.

We of­ten joke about the stereo­type of the Jewish psy­che, a spirit never sat­is­fied. This im­age is best char­ac­ter­ized by the mother whose child is swept into the sea and cries and prays for his safe re­turn. Sud­denly, the next wave casts the child back into his mother’s arms. The woman turns her eyes up to heaven and screams out: “But he had a hat!”

In truth, the cen­tral hol­i­days echo this sen­ti­ment. Rather than to sim­ply ap­pre­ci­ate mo­ments within the com­fort of the sta­tus quo, we are com­manded to pur­sue some­thing greater yet. As the To­rah in­tro­duces our fes­ti­vals, we are charged to cel­e­brate them by leav­ing our homes and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, step­ping away from our work and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in or­der to “go up” and seek greater ful­fill­ment through worship in Jerusalem.

Af­ter the de­struc­tion of the Tem­ple, our sages con­tin­ued to high­light this sen­ti­ment, cou­pling our joy of the hol­i­day with a yearn­ing for com­ple­tion. The tra­di­tional liturgy in­cludes these as­pi­ra­tions in its cen­tral bless­ings for the day. From the miss­ing main course of the paschal lamb on Seder night to the ab­sence of the High Priest rit­ual on Yom Kip­pur, cen­tral com­po­nents are glar­ingly ab­sent from the way that we cel­e­brate these bi­b­li­cal hol­i­days to­day.

Rabbi Ye­hu­dah Arye Leib Al­ter, the 19th-cen­tury has­sidic master, points out (Sfat Emet, Hanukkah, 5644 [1884]) that the hol­i­day of Hanukkah, how­ever, takes on a dif­fer­ent tone. On Hanukkah, we con­tinue our rou­tine work and life bal­ance. We don’t leave our homes to con­gre­gate else­where. We don’t strive to achieve a more ideal rit­ual. Our liturgy of the day is re­flec­tive, but con­tains no fur­ther as­pi­ra­tions than ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the mo­ment it­self. We cel­e­brate the hol­i­day of Hanukkah ac­knowl­edg­ing the mir­a­cles that have been be­stowed upon us and our fore­fa­thers straight through to to­day. While the Tem­ple and Jerusalem ap­pear as cen­tral to the nar­ra­tive of the hol­i­day, the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of mir­a­cles is cel­e­brated to­day wher­ever and when­ever we are in its most com­plete form. The cel­e­bra­tion of the Hanukkah hol­i­day is, in his words, “per­fect as it is.”

On Hanukkah we mark the mirac­u­lous vic­tory af­ter years of a hard-fought war, the strug­gle for Jewish re­li­gious free­dom, and the re­turn of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem.

The Tal­mud (Me­na­hot 28b) de­picts that very mo­ment where the Mac­cabees step forth to light their re­main­ing cruse of pure oil and reded­i­cate the Tem­ple ser­vice. How­ever, when en­vi­sion­ing that grand mo­ment of sal­va­tion, the Tal­mud notes that the solid gold Meno­rah of the Tem­ple wasn’t bear­ing the oil, as it, too, was likely plun­dered. The light­ing that our eight-day fes­ti­val has com­mem­o­rated for the last 2,100 years took place on a makeshift wooden struc­ture. An­other opin­ion in the Tal­mud sug­gests that they fash­ioned a crude meno­rah us­ing war­rior spears. Iron­i­cally, the lack of the solid gold meno­rah is not of­ten spo­ken of in think­ing about the glory of Hanukkah, as its ab­sence was in­con­se­quen­tial to the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the mo­ment.

The message of Hanukkah is one of grate­ful­ness. This grat­i­tude, in its purest form, ac­knowl­edges the mo­ment, “per­fect as it is.” May the lights of this thank­ful­ness ra­di­ate into our homes and find ex­pres­sion within our typ­i­cal ex­tra­or­di­nary lives.

(Marc Is­rael Sellem)

ON HANUKKAH, we con­tinue our rou­tine work and life bal­ance.

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