Sunday, December 6, 2015

Hanukah – Vayeshev- Mikeitz 76 What you stop yourself from doing – defines who you are

The Talmud asks - ' Why was Hanukah enacted ? - on account of which miracle? For the Rabbis taught - Hanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev and lasts for 8 days on which it is forbidden to fast and give hespedim = eulogies for the dead. The reason is that the Greeks entered the temple and defiled all the oil there. When the Hasmonean dynasty overcame and defeated them, they found only one flask of oil with the seal of the high priest. The flask had the amount of oil sufficient for one day, yet miraculously it lasted for eight days. The following year these days were designated as a religious holiday on which the Hallel and Hoda'yah = thanksgiving praises are said.'

The obvious question concerns the structure of the passage and the way the prohibition of fasting and saying eulogies for the dead is emphasized and stressed. I would have first told the story of the miracle of the oil, the fixing of the holiday of Hanukah to say praises and give thanks, and therefore in the spirit of the holiday it is forbidden to fast and or give eulogies.

Similarly, the first law=Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch = code of Law on Hanukah is the prohibition to fast or give eulogies during Hanukah. So what is so significant about this negative prohibition that it is the first law that is taught and precedes the positive mitzvoth= commandments of lighting candles and saying praises and giving thanks.

Hanukah is also called the festival of the lights because of the mitzvah to light candles. The lighting of candles has a universal message – a small amount of light can chase away a large amount of darkness. For this reason many non-Jews light candles on Hanukah because they identify with its universal message and feel spiritually enriched by the ritual. Non- observant Jews also light candles because of the universal message and the association it has with the military victory of the Hasmoneans over the Greeks and the regaining of the lost independence of the Jewish state. By lighting candles, non-Jews or non-observant Jews have not changed or redefined themselves; they are merely enriching their lives by introducing more spirituality.

Jews who are in the process of becoming more observant and 'dati', do not change and redefine themselves as observant and dati until they start to keep and observe the negative mitzvoth and prohibitions - Shabbat – Sabbath, Kashrut = dietary laws and family purity. Until they stop for eg driving or working on the Sabbath , stop eating non-kosher food and or begin observing the prohibitions involved in the laws of family purity , any positive mitzvoth they do, merely enriches who they are , but does not change or redefine them.

The negative mitzvoth and prohibitions define us with their limits and boundaries, the positive commandments and mitzvoth enrich our lives in the context of the negative mitzvoth – the boundaries and limits. It enables us to ' Sur me'ra ve' aseh tov, turn aside from doing bad and then do good. There are many wicked and evil people who also do a lot of good. It is their failure to stop and resist doing evil , that defines who they are.

So on Hanukah what defines an observant Jew and gives his mitzvah of lighting Hanukah candles a completely different dimension is the Isur = prohibition of fasting and giving eulogies for the dead.

Joseph- Yoseif is called 'Yoesif Ha'tzadick' – Joseph, the righteous and saintly man because he stopped himself from having relations with the wife of his boss – Potiphar despite incredible pressure, bribes and threats. He also allowed himself to be incriminated when she grabbed his garment. He slipped out of it and then he ran outside leaving his garment in her hand instead of using a bit of 'force' to grab back his garment. This became Joseph's undoing as she used the garment as evidence against him. Joseph was prepared to pay the price for being the person he was – someone who does not commit (a) immoral sexual acts, (b) nor betray his master or (c) does not use violence to get what he wants. On this account he spent 12 years in an Egyptian prison. After the officer of the butlers tells Pharaoh about Joseph's ability to interpret dreams, Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph. THEY brought him hastily out of the dungeon and HE – Joseph said he is not a person who goes to meet a king looking like prisoner who has not had a haircut for years, so he first went for a haircut and shopping to buy new clothes.

Parents and teachers should be helping and guiding kids to define who they are and how to give expression to their values and develop a love for people, learning and life. Traditional approaches to discipline or learning focus on obedience and compliance and the tools to get compliance and obedience are power, seduction, extrinsic motivators like rewards, punishments, consequences, praise and grades etc. Limits and boundaries are set and enforced with punishments. Instead we should be helping kids learn to set their own limits and boundaries because of their values, who they are and guidelines to behavior which the Torah gives. These guidelines help kids to analyze situations and let the limit be derived from the situation instead of following and complying with rules out of context. The reason why kids in a traditional framework do things or avoid doing things is because of what they will get or what will be done to them. It teaches them to ask what is in it for me, instead of asking ' what type of person do I want to be, what are the consequences of my behavior on other people, how do I impact on others '.

We give value to ideals and Torah when we make sacrifices and prepared to dedicate a lot of money and effort in expressing and fighting for these values. The Hanukah story is not about people asking ' what is my reward or what will I get if I go to war. It is about being prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice and go to war over values, because it expresses who I am and my commitment to the Torah and Godly values.

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