Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hanukkah - Shedding Light on What Might Be

While I wouldn't say that I love alternate history stories, you know, where you consider another outcome to some big, famous, event - "what if Washington hadn't crossed the Delaware?", "what if Lincoln hadn't been shot?", "what if Julian the Apostate hadn't been killed during his retreat from Ctesiphon?" - you know, stuff like that that everyone thinks about - I do think considering such "what if's" can be useful in reminding us that things didn't have to turn out like this, and that maybe other options, other paths, are still available. Hanukkah is a holiday very much like this to me. Even more, really, because Hanukkah represents an alternative in Jewish religious development that need not be an alternative, but can truly be part of how we understand Judaism today. On Hanukkah, as you may have noticed by now, we say some blessings before we light the candles, blessings that in part tell us we are doing so because God commanded us to fulfill his commandments. All well and good until you consider: God's commandments are found in the Torah. That's what we got on Mt. Sinai. Hanukkah was not part of that deal. So how is it God is commanding us to perform a commandment of Hanukkah? Either we understand it as a unique exception of some sort (one that goes for Purim, too) or else we must accept it as evidence that, at least at one point in time, the Rabbis felt that God's will was continuously revealed and that they, the Rabbis, human beings, could legitimately declare that something not originally in the Torah could still nevertheless be "commanded from God." While I completely understand why later generations of Jewish sages saw fit not to allow for such a rule to be applied often and everywhere, it does suggest that Judaism holds within itself a potential for accepting and endorsing changes and developments not as just as "fads" or "phases" but potentially as expressions of God's ongoing communication with us. This is not the venue to outline how and why and when and where such innovations might be enacted, but it is worth considering this somewhat hidden message, this nearly forgotten alternative in Judaism, which the Festival of Lights illuminates for us. Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukah, Rabbi Benson

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