Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Smiling for a Change!

After solemnly holding tight onto a pitchfork for over seven decades, the dour-faced Depression era couple is almost breaking into a “Happy Chanukah!” smile.
Indeed, the picture has changed as the stern stick-in-the-mud style has branched out right and left with warm and welcoming outreach to one and all. Lo and behold, the cold sharp iron implement has gracefully metamorphosed into a warm and bright Menorah.
When Grant Woods painted the austere rural American Gothic in 1930, he could never have imagined a Menorah standing in the center of his masterpiece. Neither could most of us envision that Chanukah would one day light up the contemporary American scene.
The festival of Chanukah has finally arrived, even here, deep in the heartland. Although once low profile and almost in hiding, the shy and bashful Chanukah is now embraced and celebrated, in homes, halls and malls across the country. Rather than restricted to a tiny notice tucked away in back of the religion section, Chanukah has now blossomed into a full color front page story.
It’s not that our smiling couple just discovered Chanukah out on the street. Note that they’ve already kindled their personal household Menorah in the window, and have come out front to publicly and proudly display a Menorah for all to see. The cherished Constitutional Freedom of Religion that we enjoy in this country is surely a good reason for us all to smile along.
These adorable folks may also be smiling at how times have changed since they starred in the original Gothic. Long past its heyday, the pitchfork has fallen into disuse, an archaic relic that rusts in the barnyard or is confined to museums. By contrast, the Menorah of twenty five centuries ago is full of energy, meaning and purpose. The vital and vibrant Menorah reflects the past and burns with a fiery passion for the future, shining forth as strong as ever.
The painting’s original expression of the precious values of Thrift, Endurance and Faith are depicted beautifully in the new rendition. But rather than standing stoically and tight lipped, Chanukah poignantly delivers a three pronged message that emanates warmth.
Thrift: The little cruse of oil that illuminated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem for eight days and nights demonstrates the victory of Quality over Quantity and the triumph of the few over the many.
Endurance: The Menorah highlights the brave and courageous Maccabees who struggled to overcome great challenges and obstacles.
Faith: Standing tall and proud, the Menorah encourages our faith in G-d and strengthens our confidence in Jewish destiny and future.
The Menorah inspires today, just as it inspired the Jewish people when they were liberated from Greek-Syrian oppression and influence. We preface the Menorah lighting by reciting the blessing for the miracles “in those days, in our time.” The Menorah’s bright rays help dispel the surrounding darkness and confusion and fear of war and terrorism in our time.
Retire, the old trusty pitchfork, must, but first with final respects to its association with the rich symbolism of Messianic universal peace. That is when “nations will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning shears.” (Isaiah 2:4)

By Rabbi Israel Rubin

Albany, NY

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