Video Message for Chanukah 2010/5771 (Edited Transcript)
Welcome and thank you for taking the time to watch this video.
Did you know Judaism is actually not interested in history. Isn’t that strange? After all there is so much history in Judaism – the creation of the world, the going out of Egypt, the revelation at Mount Sinai – that’s all in the past. There are so many dimensions of history to Judaism, so how can it not be interested in history?
Let me give you the following example. Do you remember your birth date? Of course you do, everybody does. People often say they are not good with dates in history. But have you ever forgotten your birth date? Maybe you forget other people’s birthdays but not your own. Why do remember your birthday and not forget it? Because it’s part of who you are today. And so, too, with Judaism all of the events that took place in the past are not history because we live with them today. They are a real part of our lives today. The creation of the world is about G-d as a Creator. The going out of Egypt is about G-d as the Master of history. The revelation at Mount Sinai is about G-d who gives us laws and principles to live by. That’s not about the past; that is about the here and now – the present.
At this time of year as we celebrate the festival of Chanukah and you and your families gather around watching the candles burn – is it about history? On the one hand it is about history because it’s about the history of a mighty world empire – the Greek Empire – that conquered many countries including the Land of Israel and imposed very harsh restrictions, limiting the freedom of religion and conscience and the Maccabees, who rose up to defend and fight against all of that and were victorious. And the oil in the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple, that should have burned for one day but burned for eight – that is the history of Chanukah. On the one hand it’s part of history as we look at those candles and on the other hand it’s about the here and now – something which is relevant. Freedom of religion is still relevant today. But it’s also about something else.
What were the Maccabees really fighting? Their battle with the Greek Empire was about ideology and ideas. The Greek Empire came to eradicate Judaism, but the Maccabees were saying that Judaism is relevant. In the siddur we say that the Greek Empire came “to make them [the Jews] forget the Torah”. What does it mean to forget the Torah? It was really a war of assimilation. The Greek Empire came to turn Israel into a Greek society and to make us forget what it means to be Jewish and what Judaism is all about. What is the concept of forgetting? You don’t forget your birth date. Why? Because it’s relevant today. You can only forget something which you think is irrelevant and part of history and of the past. You can only forget Judaism if you don’t think it’s relevant for the here and now; and that’s what the Maccabees were fighting. They were fighting for a Judaism of relevance, of immediacy and for a dynamic Judaism that lives and breathes today because it was given to us by G-d for all times, all places, all people and all situations. That is why so many people today are finding their way back to Judaism – they see in it a system of Divine relevance, insight and inspiration for how to be a child, how to be a parent, how to live in a family, how to make money and how to give money away, They see it as encompassing concepts of government, of psychology and of history. Every dimension of human existence is contained within Judaism. It gives us G-d’s Plans and Ideas for how to live our lives today. That’s what the Maccabees were fighting for.
When you stand around your Chanukah candles and look at those flames burning, think about the courage of the Maccabees. They fought for a Judaism of relevance, of immediate dynamic relevance to our lives today. When we stand around those candles let us remember them and take up their challenge to make Judaism a relevant part of our lives. Let the inspiration of this festival take us to new heights and what it means to be Jewish with the same kind of courage and vision that the Maccabees had.
Thank you for taking the time to watch this video. I want to wish you a happy Chanukah. Enjoy the summer holidays. Travel safely if you are travelling. I look forward to being with you again next time.