Friday, December 15, 2006
Tis the Season
Dedicated to the memory of my grandmother Yehudis bas Alexander Ziskin, who always lit her Hannukia in the window and whose 95th birthday would have been this week.
With that dedication, I suppose I ought to write about Hannuka....
Links to my Hannuka class in San Francisco this week:
Part1 – intro (10 min)
Part2 - (51 min)
Part3 – the deeper stuff (30 min)
2005 class (1:45)
5 questions to stump your table:
Q1: Which parts of Hannuka are the actual mitzvah, and which parts are custom?
The only mitzvah is to light one light per person per night. All additional lights are bonus-points. But if a person has only enough candles to light one per night, he has done the mitzvah. The rest of the things that people do is commentary.
Q2: Why one per person? What’s the connection between the light and a person?
It says in Proverbs 20:29 “The lamp of God is the soul of a person”. Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer of Vilnius (the Vilna Gaon) explains that the soul – neshama – has the same root letters as oil – shemen. Just like oil is contained in the wick and rises up, the soul is contained in the body and rises. The flame of the candle is like the light that a person brings into the world when learning Torah or doing a mitzvah. This model gives you the essence of Hannukah; the rest is commentary.
Q3: What’s the best way to “do” Hannuka?
If you want to use the holiday for spiritual growth, the main thing is to light the candle(s) and use them for meditation or conversation for a half-hour or so. Forestall the presents till later. Stop running around, cooking etc for that half-hour and find a way to get yourself and anyone with you involved in the moment and to think about how your learning Torah (a little more or a little better) and doing mitzvahs (a little more or a little better) makes you a brighter light in the darkness of these times.
Q4: What language must a Torah scroll be written in?
Everyone thinks that the answer is Hebrew. According to the Talmud, a Torah scroll would be kosher if written in Hebrew or Greek. It appears that the latter refers to transliteration – i.e., Greek letters spelling Hebrew words. In other words, Judaism holds dear – even holy – the aesthetics of Hellenism, as long as the content is sufficiently holy by Jewish standards. Greeks exposed unwanted babies, Jews upheld the sanctity of life. We embrace the greatness of the arts and sciences as long as we can maintain our ethical framework.
Q5: How are you supposed to spell (C)han(n)uk(k)a(h) anyway?
Your guess is as good as mine.
The rest – the latkes, doughnuts, dreidel and all that – is, as we say, commentary....
...and Shabbat Shalom.