Sunday, December 17, 2006

Going south for the winter

My first oil menorah. (It's elevated on two cans of corn to make it visible from the street, fulfilling the mitzvah of publicizing the miracle.)

Chag Sameach! Happy Chanukkah.

Chanukkah is one of the few holidays that even the Goyim (non-Jews) know about. As a less religious Jew slowly becoming more religious, I came to understand that there are many other, more "important" holidays throughout the year which have been forgotten by most Jews. I gradually came to think of Chanukkah as a sort of second-rate Jewish holiday, which only became more famous due to its proximity to X-Mas. I looked down my Jewish nose at the old, less-knoledgeable me, who elevated Chanukkah to the status of a major holiday just because I needed an excuse to fit in with my Goyish neighbors.

But as I learned more, I realized, first, that no holiday is considered more "important" than any other holiday. Indeed, there was the Jewish legal case of a Polish Jew bound to a Polish noble in servitude for some perceived crime. The nobleman gave him only one free day per year, to be taken at a time of his choosing. Naturally, he asked the legal decisors, the rabbis, which holiday he should take off. Yom Kippur? (The day of atonement, perceived by many as the most holy day of the year?), or perhaps Pesach? (Passover.)

Nope. Each holiday holds its own sanctity and is not greater than the other. Just as we do not assign a rank to various mitzvot, and perform even the smallest details with the same focus and dedication as the greatest, so too we do not elevate any holiday above any other. The rabbis answered that he should take the next holiday or Shabbat (sabbath) available off, regardless of which one it was.

So too, I now look down my nose at the old me looking down his nose at the original me. If there's one holiday that everybody should know about, it's Chanukkah, because it's the only holiday with the attached mitzvah of publicizing it to the world, Jew and Goy alike, to tell all of humanity that God rescued his people from the Greek exile, drove idol worship out of the holy temple, and saved his people from certain spiritual death. Don't mess with the mitzvot.

Because the miracle of Chanukkah occured over the oil for the menorah, it is customary to light an oil menorah. Most Ashkenazim (Jews of Eastern European descent) in the United States light candles, as I have always done, because olive oil was very difficult to come by in Eastern Europe, and so the rabbis ruled that candles were an acceptable substitute. But now that I'm back in Jew central, the holy land, where olive oil is abundant, I decided to switch back to oil.

And now, I'm racing out the door to get downtown. The yeshivah is taking a tour of the Negev desert, down south, starting at 4AM Monday (I'll be sleeping over at the yeshivah tonight) and returning 4PM Tuesday. I won't blog for a day but stay tuned for future posts with photos!

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