In Ju­daism, home is where the hol­i­days are

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - RELIGION -

This is my 71st Hanukkah, but it is my sec­ond Hanukkah with­out Tommy.

Fa­ther Tom Hart­man was my best friend and my part­ner in the God Squad. Be­fore he died on Feb. 16, 2016, I wanted to end this col­umn that we al­ways wrote to­gether, but Tommy made me prom­ise that I would con­tinue to write it. I have tried my best, but it is not the same with­out him. I still grieve for him.

One of our an­nual hol­i­day tra­di­tions in the col­umn was for Tommy to write about what he loved about Hanukkah and then I would write a col­umn the next week about what I loved about Christ­mas.

This is what I re­mem­ber Tommy loved about Hanukkah. Re­mem­ber­ing is the best I can do now.

Tommy un­der­stood a deep thing about Hanukkah that is also a deep thing about Ju­daism. All Jewish hol­i­days are cel­e­brated in sy­n­a­gogue just like all Chris­tian hol­i­days are cel­e­brated in church; how­ever, the most im­por­tant rit­u­als for many Jewish hol­i­days are meant to be cel­e­brated in the home.

Hanukkah is par­tic­u­larly home-based, and Tommy loved that. That is why he loved Christ­mas trees, which are set up in the home and bring the hol­i­day of Christ­mas closer. How­ever, a Christ­mas tree is not re­ally a Chris­tian rit­ual. It is a pa­gan druid cus­tom and ac­tu­ally was a pa­gan cus­tom that was Chris­tian­ized.

Light­ing the Hanukkah meno­rah is a rit­ual, and it is in­tended to be per­formed at home. Many syn­a­gogues do not even have lit meno­rahs.

This home light­ing is a les­son that the Jewish home is the place where Ju­daism is built and sus­tained. The home is ac­tu­ally re­ferred to as a “lit­tle Tem­ple” (He­brew: mik­dash m’at).

Per­haps be­cause Tommy, like all priests, sac­ri­ficed a home of his own in or­der to give his life to Christ, he par­tic­u­larly ap­pre­ci­ated the times he spent in my home do­ing Jewish things.

He also loved latkes, the fried potato cakes that are eaten on Hanukkah with ap­ple­sauce (Cen­tral Euro­pean Jews) or sour cream (East­ern Euro­pean Jews).

Frankly, I think Tommy just loved ap­ple­sauce and loved latkes be­cause he saw them as an ap­ple­sauce delivery sys­tem.

Tommy also loved the mes­sage of Hanukkah that one sin­gle fam­ily, the Mac­cabees, could make a dif­fer­ence in the world.

The Mac­cabean re­volt pre­served Ju­daism in the year 165 BCE when it was a re­li­gion on the verge of to­tal ex­tinc­tion. The 10 lost tribes had been wiped out in the year 722 BCE and only two of the 12 tribes re­mained (Ju­dah and Ben­jamin) near Jerusalem.

The tem­ple in Jerusalem had been de­stroyed in 586 BCE by the Baby­lo­ni­ans and most of the re­main­ing Jews were liv­ing in ex­ile after the de­struc­tion. The Tem­ple was re­built in 516 BCE but the Jews of Is­rael had no po­lit­i­cal or mil­i­tary power.

New re­li­gions like Gnos­ti­cism had arisen that fur­ther weak­ened Ju­daism and the Jewish peo­ple. The at­trac­tive cul­ture of Greece also se­duced many Jews into liv­ing lives that had no Jewish el­e­ments what­so­ever.

In this en­vi­ron­ment the Mac­cabees turned Ju­daism around and gave it new hope and new strength.

Fi­nally, Tommy loved lights, and Hanukkah is about lights. The lights of the seven-branched tem­ple meno­rah were reded­i­cated on Hanukkah but the oil for the can­de­labrum was only suf­fi­cient for one day of light­ing.

Mirac­u­lously the oil lasted for eight days, and so, on a spe­cial meno­rah eight lights are kin­dled with a ninth can­dle used to light the other eight.

Tommy would al­ways say that light is a sym­bol of God and of truth and of hope. Light is the op­po­site of dark­ness. Light was God’s first cre­ation. Tommy also loved the con­nec­tion be­tween the lights of Hanukkah and the lights of the Christ­mas tree.

In the dark­est time of the year, light is a spe­cial gift. Light is cer­tainly the most spir­i­tu­ally sig­nif­i­cant of all God’s creations. It di­vides us from the dark­ness and it unites us with God.

Tommy loved the light and now he is liv­ing in the light. Happy Hanukkah from Tommy.


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