The REAL Miracle of Chanukah

I admit it – I have a bad habit of destroying the Chanukah story for folks this time of year – telling them that the miraculous oil story is just a legend.  This legend was developed by the rabbis in an attempt to downplay the real story of Chanukah that centers around the war the Maccabbees waged against the Greeks.  The Maccabbees were victorious, regaining the Temple that was captured and defiled by the Greeks.  In an attempt to purify the Temple, the Maccabbees “rededicated” (Chanukah means dedication) the holy structure by burning the Menorah (the seven branched candelabra) for eight days.  Why eight days?  It has nothing to do with oil.  It has to do with the fact that the Maccabees, having been forbidden to practice their Judaism while under control of the Greeks, decided to rededicate the Temple for eight days in honor of the last Jewish holiday that they were forbidden to celebrate: Sukkot, which lasts eight days.  Complicated, I know.  And very war-centered.  Can you blame the rabbis for coming up with the oil story!?


If this is all new information for you, I know the look on your face.  I have seen it many times.  Sorry!  But all is not lost!


Now that you know the “truth”, I want to point out that even without the oil, .Chanukah is still a miraculous story.


The Maccabees were a tiny group of Jews who should not have been able to defeat the powerful Greeks.  But they did!  And because of this miracle, Judaism survived and did not become consumed by Greek culture.   This story of miraculous survival repeats itself many times throughout Jewish history.  Despite tremendous powers that have raged against us, nothing has stopped the Jewish people.  This is a miracle.


As we light the eight lights of Chanukah, I encourage us all to think about the incredible strength, courage and faith of our ancestors who lived through extremely dark times – but did whatever was necessary to keep the flame of Judaism alive.  At this the darkest time of year, may the lights of Chanukah not only make our homes brighter, may they also remind us of the true miracle of the Jewish people: darkness cannot extinguish our flame.


This Chanukah – celebrate the real miracle of these eight days – the strength of our people!


May it be a wonderfully bright Chanukah for us all

Are You A Talebearer?

Have you ever heard something about someone and believed it – only later to realize that what you were led to believe was totally wrong?  Certainly all of us have been in this situation.  This is why Judaism vehemently prohibits all forms of gossip and what we call l’shon hara (evil speech).  “Gossiping” in Judaism includes sharing any information about someone else even if it is complimentary, even if it is true, even if the person being talked about would volunteer the information on her own and even if the intention of the “gossiper” is good.  Sharing information that appears to be harmless is equivalent to what the Torah calls “talebearing”, something forbidden in Judaism.


Most of us are guilty of “talebearing” on a regular basis.  And really, what is wrong with sharing non-secretive, complimentary facts about someone else?  This week’s Torah portion explains….


Jacob and his brother Esau have been estranged ever since Jacob tricked his brother out of the birthright – basically stealing what was rightfully Esau’s.  This week, Jacob decides it is time to make things good with Esau.  Jacob sends messengers to Esau instructing them to tell his brother that he hopes to reconcile with him.  The messengers return, saying: “we came to your brother Esau; he himself is coming to meet you and there are four hundred men with him.”  Jacob assumes that this means that Esau is coming to wage war against him.  The Torah tells us that Jacob is “greatly frightened”.  He prepares for the worst.  However, when Esau and his four hundred men arrive to meet Jacob, the Torah tells us that “Esau ran to greet Jacob.  Esau embraced him and, falling on his neck, he kissed him and the two of them wept.”  Jacob quickly realizes that the messengers had led him to believe something that was not true: his brother was not out to harm him.  On the contrary, Esau was also seeking reconciliation.


This story teaches us the dangers of “talebearing”.  When we share information about someone else that appears to be harmless, we can mislead people into believing something false about the individual being discussed.  Esau was coming to Jacob.  He was accompanied by four hundred men.  But, he was not coming to attack his brother.  “Talebearing” is wrong because, as we learn from the story above, even “facts” can be misinterpreted.


We must work hard not be “talebearers”.  It is not easy.  On top of this, today we must pay close attention to the dangers that e-mail and texting present us with – mainly the fact that our quick one-liners that are electronically transmitted from our smart phones or computers are easily misunderstood and can send messages about ourselves that we don’t intend to send.  How many times have you gotten a text or e-mail and incorrectly assumed from the message that the sender was upset with you?  While not “talebearing”, the perils of e-mail and texting remind us how powerful our words, both spoken and written, can be and how carefully we must use them.  If used well, our words can be holy.  When used without thought, our words can be weapons.


Unfortunately, our culture encourages us to use our words as weapons.  “Talebearing,” gossiping, making assumptions about others – these are part and parcel of our society.  But this does not mean we can’t rise above this negativity.  We can watch our words.  We can think before we speak/type.  We can refuse to listen to gossip.  We can get to know people instead of making assumptions about them.  And we can learn that there are times when it is just not necessary to speak.  “A knowledgeable person is sparing with her words.”  (Proverbs 17:27)