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The Real Miracle of Hanukah: Light Over Darkness

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“What is Hanukah?” the perplexing question that is asked in the Talmud[1] After all, Hanukah is the only holiday that is not mentioned in the twenty-four books of Jewish Bible. According to the famous commentator Rashi, the question is, “For which miracle did the sages establish the festival of Hanukah?” In which we are told, “For the sealed jar of oil, hidden and untouched.”[2] How can we understand the miracle of the jar of oil, which should have lasted one day and burned for eight?

        In his book, Ascending Jacob’s Ladder, Rav Yaacov Hillel explains that the military victory of the Maccabees against the Greeks was not sufficient to establish Hanukah as a Jewish holiday. Hanukah was not simply a physical battle. The Greeks weren’t trying to kill the Jews; they were trying to kill Judaism. In this way, Hanukah was a spiritual battle. Thus, according to Rav Hillel, the miracle of the jug of oil teaches us that the real victory of Hanukah was a victory of light against darkness.

        The real battle that took place was between Jewish values and Greek philosophy. Ken Spiro, a Jewish historian, provides more insight into this dichotomy. Spiro points out that even though the Greeks are credited for establishing Democracy, their values and practices were far from Democratic. They practiced infanticide, a direct contradiction to respect for life. Only land-owning males had voting rights and education was reserved for a small elite. Family stability was non-existent as men were encouraged to take wives only in order to have children, but pursue love affairs elsewhere.

        Ultimately though, Greek philosophy denied spirituality completely, favoring natural order above all. This explains the Greek ban on Circumcision, Shabbat, and celebrating the New Moon- Jewish practices that attribute spiritual meaning to the physical world through sanctifying the body, soul, and time, respectively.

        Obviously, Judaism is a far cry from ancient Greek philosophy. As Jews, we believe that our mitzvot have spiritual meaning. Additionally, Ken Spiro explains how Jewish values are actually the foundation for modern democracy. For instance, the Ten Commandments forbid murder, an expression of the Jewish believe that we are all created in the image of G-d. Throughout history, Jews have always pursued social justice and education for all. The list goes on.

        According to Rav Hillel, we are still fighting a battle between light and darkness today. Holding on to a Jewish life of meaning faces new, additional  threats in the 21st century: the overwhelming emphasis on materialism; the distraction that comes with modern technology; the increased focus on ourselves as oppose to the collective; and the impatience of wanting immediate satisfaction without hard work. And as if that weren’t enough, we Jews also face the threat of radical Islamists, who seek to kill Jews and destroy Judaism.

          As a Jewish nation, if we wish to win this eternal battle of light against darkness in the modern age, we must hold on to our time-tested values and traditions. Even though we are a small minority, the lights of the menorah in the dark winter nights teach us that “a small flame of light will dispel vast expanses of darkness.”[3]

        On a more personal level, Rabbi Yitzchak Rotenberg, the first Rebbe of the Ger Chasidic dynasty compares the miracle of the oil jug to the “pintele yid,” Yiddish for the Divine spark that exists in every Jewish soul. Just as the jug of oil remained pure and untainted from Greek forces, so too there is a part of our souls that will always remain pure- attached to our heritage and individual missions, and uninfluenced by our external environments.

        The Ger Rebbe explains that just as it took the Maccabees great effort to uncover the pure jug of oil, so too it takes great effort to uncover our true potential. The Greek philosophy sought to “blur the Jews’ image of themselves as G-d’s holy and treasured nation.”[4] Today, as mentioned earlier, modern society seeks to do the same. But the Maccabees discovered the jug of oil, and re-dedicated the Temple to a state of purity and sanctity. In the same way, the Rebbe insists that “no more opportune time exists to relocate [our] inner sanctity than the time of kindling the Chanukah lights which are extremely efficacious in helping us discover our inner potential.”[5]

        Even if we can appreciate the great potential within ourselves, how do we achieve it?  This big question cannot be answered in depth here, but I will offer a few words for thought for a variety of sources might help shine some light.The book, Duties of the Heart, states that one’s purpose lies at the intersection of what one enjoys, is good at, and what the world needs. According to Rebbetzin Dena Weinberg, Founder of EYAHT women’s college,  one cannot fulfill his potential if he is not truly happy. And the famous teacher of last generation, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, teaches that one can only be happy if he is connected: connected to himself, his loved ones, and G-d.

        This year, let’s celebrate the true miracle of Hanukah, the triumph of light over darkness, by tapping into our national and personal lights.

 

[1] Shabbat 21b.
[2] Ascending the Ladder, Rabbi Yaacov Hillel, p.85
[3] Id. at p. 89
[4] Yalkut Yosef, Introduction on Hanukah, p. 31
[5] Rabbi Yosef Stern, Days of Joy: Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes on Chanukah and Purim, p. 168
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Jenna (Marin) Maio, Esq. studied English/Creative Writing at Emory University and Law and Environmental Sustainability at the University of Pennsylvania. She recently launched her website, jennamarin.com, which shares relatable lessons and stories of eternal Jewish wisdom. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram @modernjewishgirl.

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Chanuka

Orange You Hungry for Latkes?

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When you hear of Chanukah being spoken about, it’s safe to say that the first food that comes to mind are latkes. The idea of latkes and sufganiyot (and any other fried food your family may have the custom of eating), came about as a commemoration of the miracle that occurred through the discovery of a jug of oil. The story goes as follows:

After Alexander the Great, a friend to the Jewish people, passed away, his great kingdom was split up amongst his head commanders. Israel, unfortunately, fell under the rule of Antiochus III. To simply rule Israel wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to erase the Jewish religion and therefore forbade Jews from studying the Torah, being circumcised, etc. If any Jew was caught practicing the Torah, they would be murdered. One day, an old Jewish man named Matityahu was tired of seeing the constant disrespect, and called out to the Jewish people to rise with him in rebellion. Only a few agreed to follow him, as many were afraid for their lives. Having been an old man Matityahu was not able to fight for long, and on his deathbed he urged his 5 sons to carry on his mission. He appointed his second son, Judah, to be the leader. After Matityahu died, his children did not fail him. Even though they were outnumbered one to one hundred, the numbers did not scare their small army for they believed Hashem would protect them. And so He did. They continued fighting and continued winning, until Judah and his men went up to Jerusalem, and there was no one to fight. They went straight to the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, only to find that it had been completely desecrated. There were idols and pig sacrifices everywhere. They searched through the rummage to see if they could find a jug of pure olive oil that might have still remained, in order to light the Menorah. To their surprise they found one tiny jar, enough to light for one day. However, there was an even greater miracle. This tiny amount of oil, burnt for a total of 7 days, enough to give the Jews more time to make more pure olive oil. To remember this miracle, we now have the tradition to eat oily foods on Chanukah.

Seeing as I try to maintain a healthy kitchen, frying is not a regular occurance. But if I’m going to fry in honor of this beautiful holiday, I might as well fry healthy ingredients. Therefore, I developed the most delicious “healthy” latke recipe. They are so savory you won’t want to dip them into any sauces.

Ingredients:ingredients

2 Yams

2 Carrots

1 Bushel Italian Parsley

1 Yellow Onion

4 Garlic Cloves

5 eggs

1 tbsp. Kosher Salt

½ tsp. pepper

½ tsp. garlic powder

¾ c. canola oil (for frying)

Directions:

Process all ingredients through the food processor using the shredding disc for the yams, carrots, and onion, and the blade for the garlic and parsley. Combine ingredients in a bowl and add eggs, salt black pepper and garlic powder. Make sure all ingredients are well mixed with the eggs.

In a medium-sized frying pan, warm up the oil on medium flame. Scoop out yam and carrot mixture, about one large spoonful, gently place in oil and pat down. Fry for about 2 minutes on each side…. and ENJOY!!

latka

Wishing you all a beautiful and Happy Chanukah.

You can contact Valerie at valskitchensecrets@gmail.com for all catering inquiries, and make sure to follow her on Instagram @valskitchensecrets for more ideas.

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december, 2019

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