Monday, January 2, 2017

Chanukah and the recent UN resolution

Am I the only one fascinated by the alignment of the last day of Chanukah and beginning of the new secular year?

Do you know that 2017 has nine calendar days for Chanukah? Today, January first, and then again for eight days in December. So 2017 is unquestionably the "Year of Chanukah!"

Of course, Chanukah never really ends. Rather, the awesome message of this year's Chanukah has been gained and added to our treasure trove of experiences. It continues to enrich us and empower us, even long after the eight-day festival is over.

Sadly, this year's Chanukah was marred by a rather unsettling event (pun intended), a typically-vicious anti-Israel resolution at the UN, and an unprecedented US abstention.

Ironic, because Chankuah is all about the triumph of light over darkness. But this year, darkness seems to have prevailed over light, and ignorance over reason.

In a stunning move, the fanatically biased United Nations condemned Israel for allowing Jews to live in their ancient capital, Jerusalem, or even from praying at the Western Wall, and the US abstained.

Even worse, it appears as though our president colluded with the UN in drafting and promoting this resolution!

Even more shocking is the date in which it transpired, the day before Chanukah, the day that the Maccabbees reasserted Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Temple Mount and drove out the Hellenist invaders.

So along comes the UN and negates thousands of years of uncontested Jewish sovereignty in one fell swoop, and the United States tacitly approves.

I think it’s fair to assume that most Americans consider this a cataclysmic failure in US foreign policy, while some erroneously think that this might somehow pressure Israel to make more concessions that might somehow jumpstart peace talks again.

But everyone realizes how absurd it is to disassociate Jerusalem from the Jewish People.

Jews lived in Jerusalem longer than the English lived in London or the Spanish lived in Spain, or the Romans lived in Rome. In fact, Jews lived in Jerusalem long before the English or Spanish even existed, and even well before the Romans even existed.

A Jew is a walking relic from the past, and Jerusalem is his ancestral home for most of recorded history.

The Jew has been persevering  to maintain his Holy City for millennia. Every foe who succeeded in conquering Jerusalem from the Jews ultimately faded away and disappeared behind the cobwebs of history.

The Seleucid Empire is a perfect example.

In fact, they were the villains of the Chanukah story, the very reason we have been celebrating for the past eight days.

Many people are mystified or outraged by the UN’s and President Obama’s timing in issuing this preposterous resolution.

Was that an idea of a cruel joke? People wonder. A Chanukah gift to the Jewish People, many of whom voted for him in two elections and voted for the candidate he had recently endorsed?

How many American Jews are now shaking their head in regret and dismay? I personally know many who are, and I’m sure you do too.

Other Jews, who distrusted Obama from day one, are angrily beating their chests! How dare he perpetrate such a dastardly deed, just days before Chanukah, the holiday in which we celebrate the Jewish liberation of Jerusalem! The time we celebrate that Jerusalem is once more in Jewish hands!

Was he trying to be like the proverbial Grinch who stole Chanukah?

I humbly disagree.

My dear friends, what I am about to say might sound like hyperbole or fantasy. But it is not.

Please don’t get all riled up. Just hear me out.

The UN and Obama just gave us all a lesson about Chanukah. Actually, this lesson was taught in the Talmud Bavli some 1,500 years ago.

Let’s read it together:

The Talmud (Shabbat 22b) asks:

מאי חנוכה? What is 'Hanukah? The rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth day of Kislev 'Hanukah commences and lasts eight days, on which lamenting and fasting are prohibited. When the Hellenists entered the sanctuary, they defiled all the oil that was found there. When the government of the House of Hasmoneans prevailed and defeated them, oil was sought to kindle the Menorah in the Temple and only one vial was found with the seal of the high priest intact. The vial contained sufficient oil for one day only, but a miracle occurred, and they lit the Menorah with it for eight consecutive days. These eight days were the following year established as days of joy, for Hallel praise and thanksgiving.”

Fascinatingly, there is no mention of the miracle of the war, of the miraculous liberation of the city. The Talmud simply states that Chanukah is so called because of the miraculous way the Temple was rededicated, with the lights that lasted for eight days.

Herein lies the crux of the Chanukah. It’s not about “us” and “them.” It’s not like “They oppressed us, they occupied our land, they restricted our freedoms. We fought back. We won. Let’s eat!”

It’s that the site of the Holy Temple, atop the Temple Mount, was rededicated as a House for G-d in a miraculous way that clearly demonstrated that it was what G-d wanted.

The war, few prevailing over many, liberation of our city and our land, renewed Jewish independence and sovereignty, etc… that is all secondary. That’s why it was called “Chanukah,” dedicating the Temple, and not “Independence Day” or “Jerusalem Day” or something like that. Even the apocryphal reference to חג האורים, the festival of lights, recalls the miracles of the lights, not the miracle of the war, as the major theme of the holiday.

So now let’s consider the main points of the recent UN resolution:
  1. The UN is declaring all and any Jewish presence in Jerusalem and Judea Samaria as settlements, and therefore, as illegal.
  2. The UN declares that all this settlement activity is an obstacle to peace.
  3. The UN demands that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities
  4. The current status quo is not sustainable or acceptable. The current “one-state” reality is not viable.

Obviously we understand the malicious intent of the hypocritical Jew-haters at the so-called United Nations. They would like Israel to cease to exist, G-d forbid. Of course, a so-called “Palestinian State” means a Judenrein fascist police state, like Gaza currently is, that is sworn to the mass-murder of Jews everywhere. “Two-state solution” is one step toward a “Final Solution,” heaven forfend, לא תקום פעמיים צרה. So it must be opposed in the strongest of terms, with or without a US veto.

But as our sages observed, לב שרים ומלכים ביד ה' (“The hearts of officers and kings are in the hand of G-d” – based on a verse in Misheli 21:1)

If you consider these statements objectively, the message is undeniably true and aligns with the essence of Chanukah.

The UN declares that all Jewish presence in the Holy Land is but a mere settlement! That’s right, if you were ousted from your home but you’re camping out in your backyard, you’re just pitching a tent. You’re not living in your true home, as a true resident does. Why aren’t you clamoring to re-enter your home? Why are you “settling” for a tent in the backyard? Hmm, sounds suspicious, the United Nation reasons. You must be occupiers.

That’s correct. Chanukah reminds us that it’s not about “our land,” or “our” independence. It’s about dedicating a house to G-d. And G-d only has one Home, in one place. The same place it’s been ever since 870 BCE.

It’s about rededicating that Holy House by kindling His Holy Menorah with pure oil, as prescribed in His book, the Torah.

It’s not about us. It never was about us.

That’s why if you read the “V’al hanissim” prayer chanted in the Amida and in Birkat (grace) each day of multiple times each day of Chanukah, you will not find the pronoun “us” or “we” used even once, except in the very beginning where it refers to the miracles that You, G-d, performed for our fathers. And then the entire prayer invokes G-d as “You” in second person.

“(Thank you) for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds, for the saving acts, and for the wonders which You have wrought for our ancestors in those days, at this time—

“In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanan the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, when the wicked Hellenic government rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will. But You, in Your abounding mercies, You stood by them in the time of their distress. You waged their battles, You defended their rights, You avenged the wrong done to them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah. You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world, and You effected a great deliverance and redemption for Your people Israel to this very day. Then Your children entered the shrine of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courtyards, and instituted these eight days of Chanukah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name."

Holy smokes! I counted a whopping total of twenty-three “You’s,” and not one single “We” or “Us.”

Here’s the other important prayer we chant each night of Chanukah after kindling the menorah. It’s called “Haneirot Halalu”:

“We kindle these lights [to commemorate] the saving acts, miracles and wonders which You have performed for our forefathers, in those days at this time, through Your holy priests. Throughout the eight days of Chanukah, these lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make use of them, but only to look at them, in order to offer thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, for Your wonders and for Your salvations.”

Yes, we are kindling lights, but they are not for us or our use. They are only for us to gaze at, in order to offer thanks to You, for Your miracles and Your wonders, etc.

What does that teach us? That Chanukah is not about us. It’s about G-d, but not about “Him.” Rather, it’s about feeling G-d’s presence, and consequently about talking with G-d as “You.”

So how can I truly celebrate renewed Jewish life in our ancestral land while You G-d are still homeless, as it were? And if You are homeless, then so are we. Your Home lies in ruins, while Your children, the ones You so dearly wish to kindle Your holy lamp in Your house, can’t even ascend upon Your Holy mount, to gaze upon the desolate site of Your home?

How dare Jewish leaders brazenly lie and claim that the Western Wall is the holiest site in Judaism! What utter falsehood!

Where do you feel most at home in your property? In your back ally? Front yard? Outside the walls of your home? Of course not. It’s inside the walls where you truly feel at home. Your own sanctuary, your home base.

The Western Wall is just an outer Wall, and a mere fragment thereof. And that’s why it’s called the Wailing Wall. It’s not the holiest site in Judaism. It’s the saddest site in Judaism that we are able to visit, and wail. If you are happy with that status quo, if you settle with being outside in the back ally while your home is hijacked or in ruins, and you are barred from entering altogether, then you are just a settler, by your own self-definition. You don’t really belong there.

So the UN declares, the current status quo is unacceptable! Stop settling!

It’s time to fish or cut bait.

If it is indeed your home, then go build your home. And if it isn’t your home, then stop camping out in the backyard!

But Jews are kind-hearted and benevolent people. How can we displace the Arabs who are currently there? What about their shrine or shrines? Shall we not honor the fact that they’ve been there for the past numerous centuries?

So here’s where Chanukah comes in. It’s not about us. It’s about dedicating a home for G-d.

Perhaps I ought to stop thinking about myself, and what kind of person I wish to be viewed as. G-d wants a home, so let me go dedicate it. And if I cannot dedicate it at present, then I ought to start clamoring and demanding for G-d’s home to be rebuilt and rededicated. I’ll start showing that I’m no settler, but a son or daughter of the true Owner of the property whose home tragically burned down twice but will soon be rebuilt and re-inhabited, by His own children, the way HE wants it. Just like HE demonstrated with the miracle of the eight days of Chanukah over 2,100 years ago!

Thank you to the United Nations and to Barack Obama for reminding us of what we all know in our heart of hearts to be true, but can’t articulate it.

Let’s stop "settling" for less, when we can achieve the Dream of Dreams, an eternal home for the Divine on this earth! We must cease and desist from living this “settler” existence in Exile at once!

The Golus-settlement status quo is unacceptable and not viable. It’s illegal for a Jew to be in Exile, or for G-d to be in exile. It’s a violation of G-d’s law.

Let’s go build Your house, G-d. The Third Holy Temple. And let’s dedicate it to You with pure oil, just like Your holy priests, the Maccabbees, did in times of old.

And then, there will be true and lasting peace, a peace that all nations of the world, including Arabs, will come to cherish and appreciate.

But so long as we’re mere settlers, our “settling” is an obstacle to peace, to the ultimate peace.

The current “state” of Israeli “statehood” is not a lasting solution, because it does not recognize the need for G-d to have His home. If you’re homeless, how does it help to have a state? And if you’re willingly homeless, do you even deserve a state?  Have a state without having a home is also a settlement of sorts.

The very notion that a Jewish “state” is a consolation to Jews for the millions of lives lost in the Holocaust in an anathema and morally objectionable.  It might be true that the current state is necessary in order to prevent future Holocausts, heaven forfend, from the surrounding hostile enemies. But in no way does it somehow justify or reconcile the atrocities of the past, nor even the suffering and injustices of the present.

The only consolation to the nearly two millennia of Holocausts, Crusades, Pogroms, massacres, expulsions and inquisitions, etc., is the true and complete Redemption through Moshiach, the climax of which will be the re-dedication of G-d’s home on the Temple Mount, and the return of all G-d’s children from the far-flung corners of the earth, followed by the resurrection of the dead.

Amen. May it be speedily in our days.

But until that time, let’s mobilize now to bring it about, and not just wait passively. And remember: it's not about me. It's about something infinitely greater and more awesome than me. It's about You.

PS:  the "You" theme of Chanukah is also eloquently expressed by King David in Psalm 115 (that we currently recite for the Rebbe's years, and that was also recited each day of Chanukah in Halel): "לא לנו ה' לא לנו -- Not for us, O G-d, not for us... but for Your name give honor, for Your kindness and for Your truthfulness. Why should the nations say, 'Where is your G-d?'..." Indeed, it's not about us, but about You. And therefore, "ישראל בטח בה' עזרם ומגינם הוא -- O Israel, trust in G-d. He is their help and shield..."

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