Hanukah & Hesed (previously emailed to Smith students)

With snow now falling on campus and the temperature consistently low, I realize the high prices of oil and gas may leave homes cold for the first time.
With our economy in shambles and the country divided into read and blue state, I realize that little is being done to alleve suffering.
With crises in Darfur and Iraq never seeming to go away, I realize that we can stand up and help save others.

These are just a few examples of the darkness that surrounds us.

At this time of darkness in the calendar, our tradition teaches us to dispel the darkness one candle at a time.
Now for a bit of text [note: you can skip the next two paragraphs and the email will still make sense].

The Talmud on Shabbat 21b brings the following disagreement on lighting nerot hanukah (Hanukah candles): "Our Rabbis taught: "The mitzvah of Hunukah--a light for each person and his/her household. Those who are particular--a light for each and every person. Those who are extremely particular--Beit Shammai says: 'On the first day light eight; from then on, continue to decrease.' Beit Hillel says: 'On the first day light one, front then on continue to
add.'" Ulla said: 'Two Amoraim in the West, Rabbi Yose bar Avin and Rabbi Yose bar Zavida disagreed. One said: the reasons of Beit Shammai is that it corresponds to the days that are left, and the reason of Beit Hillel is that it corresponds to the days that are past.' The other said: 'The reason of Beit Shammai is that it corresponds to the bulls [offered] on the festival of Sukkot (when the original Temple was dedicated), and the reason of Beit Hillel is that we raise up in manners of holiness not go down.'

Even though I want to focus on the last line (the second reason for Beit Hillel's statement), I thought it was worthy of looking at the entire passage.
There are four opinions on how Hanukah candles are lit. A. 1 light for each head of household. B. One light for each person. Presumably, each of these holds true for each night, so you would light a total of 8 candles in A and 8 X # of people in B. In C. and D., there is an understanding that the number of candles bears a relationship to either the number of days the oil lasted in the miracle of Hanukah or the number of days in the original dedication of the Temple (eight). C. Light 8 candles the first night, 7 the next, etc. (this would tell you how many days remained of the miracle) D. Light 1 candle the first night, 2 the second, etc. (This tells you what night you are on). In each of C and D, 36 candles are lit if lighting one per household and 36 X # of people if lighting per person. None of these opinions includes the shamash (or helper) candle--which is used to prevent us from deriving benefit from the Hanukah candles themselves (so if you want to do the math on the total candles used, add 8 candles to any method).

Hanukah candles are supposed to be displayed in a window (or better yet be outside). In the darkness of the winter, we start with one light and keep adding to it, slowing increasing the amount of light in the world. Each night, we increase the amount of light, dispeling darkness and dispair. So too, when we each help someone or better the world, our one action added to those of everyone else. Since we will already be dispeling the physical darkness in our surroundings, I think it is a great time to discuss doing it throughout the year through acts of loving-kindness.
This Hanukah, join me in discussing how the Jewish community at Smith can work together to better dispel the darkness. Together, we can make the world a better place--one light at a time.

As we light the remaining candles, I encourage you to think of how we can channel our spiritual energy to help others.
As always, I appreciate your email, phone or private responses.

With wishes of a hag urim sameach (a joyous festival of lights),
Rabbi Bruce

No comments: