Hanukkah and Jewish unity

Rabbi Weiman is a speaker, teaches Jewish history at Esther Miller Bais Yaakov, and is author of the new book, “48 Things, 49 Days,” (Targum Press) as well as “A Simple Guide to Happiness,” “A Map of the Universe,” and “the Everything Learning Hebrew Book.”

BY RABBI MAX WEIMAN

Hanukkah is the most universally observed “ritual” among Jews. The Torah contains 613 commandments, many of which we call ritual because they don’t fulfill a practical or moral purpose (i.e. the commandment to return a lost object or not to murder serves a practical/moral purpose). The rituals express our love for, and our relationship with God – like observing Shabbat or kashrut.

Aside from the 613 dos and don’ts from the Torah, there are seven main rabbinic commandments.

One of which is, you guessed it, lighting the Hanukkah menorah. How odd that a rabbinic enactment became more popular than many Biblical commandments.

How many families own a sukkah?

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How many families own a menorah?

According to Kabbalah, the holiday of the first day of every Hebrew month, Rosh Chodesh, is holier than Hanukkah, yet only a small number of Jews recognizes Rosh Chodesh as a holiday. (More Jews own menorahs than even own a Hebrew calendar, let alone know when Rosh Chodesh is each month.) Since Hanukkah is the most popular Jewish ritual, it should be considered a symbol of Jewish unity.

Although unity is a hallmark of Jewish history, there is much room for improvement. Yes, it is true that no matter what affiliation or lack thereof, Jews care about one another more than any other group. Even though they are separated by race, country, language and culture, the Jews send aid, fight for, and pray for their fellow Jews all over the world.

Still, there are barriers that have been created to thwart the feeling of unity. At the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the sages agreed that unwarranted hatred was the spiritual cause of that destruction. And 2,000 years later we have not rectified this problem.

Whenever you criticize your fellow Jew, you are removing the foundation of the Temple all over again.

Throughout their history, the Jewish people are only successful and powerful when they have unity. Although there are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform etc. synagogues, prayer books, conversions and so on, you don’t have to choose between an Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform menorah.

As a symbol of Jewish unity, Hanukkah has the potential to be a catalyst for the redemption. The lights are not only a remembrance of the military victory, but also a symbol of the menorah that stood in the Temple, and so they represent the potential for the Messiah and a return to Jerusalem with a united people. When you light the flames you can have in your heart a prayer for the unity of the Jewish people. You can even dedicate the merit of your mitzvah to go toward helping the Jews have more unity.

It should be noted that an important aspect of the entire Hanukkah story is the extra effort, called mesiras nefesh in Hebrew, that the Jews put in at the time of the Hellenists. The Jews fought a seemingly un-winable war. As they went beyond the call of duty, so did God. After they regained control of the Temple, it was a miracle for them to even find a vessel of oil that had not become impure. The Greeks purposely defiled every vessel of oil they could. God went beyond the call of duty by providing them with a vessel of oil that was pure, and as a symbol of this extra effort, He caused the oil to stay lit for much longer than it should have.

In order to put in extra effort in service to God, you have to understand the depth of the commandment you want to spend that effort on. In other words, you have to know the spirit of the law. You can be righteous by fulfilling the letter of the law, but in order to have a closer relationship with the Almighty, you have to connect with the spirit of the law. When you have thought about what God really wants from you, then you are able to expend extra effort in that area.

Why does God command us to love our fellow man? One reason is because He wants what’s best for every one of His creations, and love is a universal pleasure to give and to receive. It actually is often a greater pleasure to give it. So it’s a win/win situation when we feel and express a deep appreciation for one another.

What is ironic is that in order to love, you have to look a little deeper into someone’s personality in order to see the real beauty inside.

Spirituality is hidden behind the physical superficialities. Much of the dislike between peoples of the world is based on superficial differences between them. The deeper you look, the more you realize what you have in common with people all over the world. By focusing on the deeper stuff it’s much easier to love and appreciate others. The soul of mankind is the most awesome and beautiful thing in all creation. Our job is to peel back the layers so we can see the inner beauty that’s in everyone.

And what we find inside others when we pull back those layers, is actually a piece of the Infinite One Himself. This Hanukkah, try to put aside the labels that divide us, focus on what’s inside and we’ll all have a Happy Hanukkah.

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Rabbi Max Weiman is Director of Kabbalah Made Easy and author of ‘A Simple Guide to Happiness,’ available on Amazon.com. More of his articles are found online at www.kabbalahmadeeasy.com.