Chanukah: Fifth Candle

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  In the interest of changing times, community, and adult children, I have edited these slightly.

Chanukah-Night5

Tonight, the gift of HOME

As in, you can always come home.  As in, you can bring your friends home.  As in, this is your home. You may have moved away, and call another place “home”, but we hope this is “home home”.  You have a place in the world, with us, a shelter, both physical and psychological.  It looks just like any other home, maybe more chaotic than some, but it is your home, your safe place, where you started and where you can always come back to.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah!

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Chanukah: Fourth Candle

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  I have begun re-writing them somewhat, after all these years, with adult children and a changing community and world.

Tonight, the gift of JUDAISM

We give you Judaism, your own personal connection  with the Source and Spirit of the World.  This great gift includes spiritual strength, heritage, a strong moral code, and an incredible gift for survival.  Judaism gives you inspiration, scholarship, protection, compassion, a way to live, and a people to belong to, wherever life takes you. We give you this gift, hoping like us, you will unwrap it throughout your life,  and find new joys and questions, new ideas and old friends.  Sometimes this gift gets complicated, and sometimes downright confusing.  But we hope we are showing you how it may change in practice, not presence; how it continues to be a source within your soul.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah

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Chanukah: Third candle

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  I have begun re-writing them somewhat, after all these years, with adult children and a changing community and world.

 

Tonight, the gift of FAMILY

This is what can make you feel suffocated and free, alone and never alone.  This is your blessing.  This is your four beloved grandparents, whether alive or not.  This is the aunts and uncles and cousins that seem endless, but are so dear to us, that every chance we get, we gather together.  This is the other departed members of our family that you hear us talk about.  This is what you will be to your children.  This is the crowd around the menorah and the table on Shabbat.  This is the other part of your roots, the groundedness you get when you know who you are and whose examples you can follow. This is growing up in a setting where we try hard every day to show you how much family means to us, how much we mean to each other.  We offer this gift with such joy and love.

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Chanukah: Second candle

chanukah-2nd

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.

Tonight, the gift of KNOWLEDGE

This includes both schooling and street smarts, and also self-knowledge. This house is full of books, and the give and take of active debate.  We read. You read.  You take classes, so do we.  But it also includes the music, the museums, the dance and the theater, the family trips and the Shabbatons.  It includes self-reflection. It’s the richness of every experience, from camping (a little!) to hammering (a little!) , baking, doing your own laundry, giving tzedakah and d’vrei Torah.  We are filling your minds all the time, even when you don’t know it, even when we don’t know it.  This gift you can keep giving yourself all the rest of your life.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah!

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Chanukah – First candle

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  I have begun re-writing them somewhat, after all these years, with adult children and a changing community and world.

ImageTonight, the gift of LOVE

This is the first thing first.  We love you. We will always love you.  This is unconditional and non-negotiable.  Gibraltar may crumble, the Rockies may tumble, but Mom and Dad will love you always and forever, no matter what.

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Vayeshev: Swim hard against the tide

This week’s parasha has a lot in it. But my focus is elsewhere right now. I am at the URJ  Biennial. Six thousand of the most identified, enthusiastic, engaged Jews I’ve ever met. I’m here with Spertus Institute, representing the school and looking for new students. This is my third Biennial, and Shabbat at Biennial is incredibly profound and moving.

This morning was a highlight. I just heard the very honorable Senator from MA,  Elizabeth Warren speak for almost an hour about…well, who cares. She’s amazing, reading the phone book. But really, she talked about standing up for what’s right, and the importance of having your voice heard, even if you don’t win the fight. She talked about how her first fights in Congress were “lost”, but she met allies and learned from the losses and can come back stronger. Raising your voice is a muscle that gets only stronger with use, she said.  And she referenced Vayikra 19:33-34, how we are commanded to treat the vulnerable, the stranger in our midst as a native, and not oppress them, because we were strangers, oppressed in a foreign land, and we need to “love” our neighbors as we would ourselves.

As you may know, this is the most common commandment in the Torah; 36 times we are reminded to treat the stranger with compassion because we were strangers.

Joseph certainly wasn’t treated with compassion by his own brothers. They hated him and threw him in a pit to die alone. He was horribly mistreated. Maybe the memory of the hatred against him stayed with him as he rose to power. Those in power must always be able to hear the voices of those who need help.

Speaking out the truth to power has never been more important. It’s vital that we keep resisting, insisting, persisting. Senator Warren channels Torah when she exhorts us to do what she continues to do. Go with the tide when you can, she said, and swim hard against it when the tide is headed in the wrong direction.

Shabbat shalom from Boston.

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Vayishlach: Apologize and reconcile

ReconciliationI know I should be writing about Dinah and the was she was attacked in this week’s parashah. In this extremely long parasha, Vayishlach, all of chapter 34 is devoted to her story. Dinah was Jacob’s daughter through Leah, the only one we know about. She “went out” to hang out with some other women. She was raped. Her brothers, led by Simeon and Levi, ended up slaughtering her rapist’s town, even though he and his entire town agreed to become circumcised to appease the sons, so Dinah could marry the rapist’s son.. Jacob’s sons waited until after they were at their weakest from the procedure, and attacked and slew every man in town.

Wait, I wasn’t going to write about Dinah. I wanted to write more about the meeting that took place between Esau and Jacob after twenty years of being estranged. Let’s remember why they were estranged. Back when they were boys, Esau came in from the hunt, Jacob was sitting by the tent, and when his brother said he was famished, Jacob withheld the stew he was cooking until Esau had “sold” (extorted?) the birthright from him, the elder brother by rights.

Then, when old blind Isaac lay dying, and asked his favorite son to bring him food the way he liked it, while Esau went out to hunt down dinner, Jacob put on a bunch of hairy skins to fool his dad into thinking he was Esau, and stole the first-son blessing out from under his older brother. And whose idea was this? None other than dear mom, Rebecca, whose favorite son was, of course, Jacob. After Esau realized what happened, Rebecca told Jacob to get out of town, figuring Esau would be out after blood.

Fast forward twenty years, and the brothers are about to meet again. Naturally Jacob is a bit nervous, given the mood Esau was in when last seen. Both brothers had become wealthy men, but Jacob made the first step, sending messages and gifts to Esau. Finally, they meet. Jacob ran ahead, and bowed to Esau. “Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and falling on his neck, he (Esau) kissed him ,and they wept.” (Gen 33:4) They were incredibly civil to each other, visibly moved. Esau wanted to journey together, but Jacob declined the offer. They separated, and didn’t see each other until Isaac’s death.

I keep thinking there should be another line in the script: an apology from Jacob. Something like, “Esau, I did some terrible things to you when we were young, and I’m so sorry.”

Would that have shown weakness? Jacob had recently wrestled with God/messenger and received a new name, the God-wrestler “Israel.” Did he think that after that experience, he was too God-touched to apologize to his brother?  Was he entrenched in his behavior long past, feeling it was justified and part of the Divine plan, so he didn’t have to apologize to anyone, especially his own brother? How can there be reconciliation without an apology. There wasn’t; the brothers didn’t speak at Isaac’s gravesite.

Jacob’s future was a family that continued favoritism, dissension, and led to attempted fratricide. Might it have been different if he had been humble enough to really reconcile, to apologize?  Of course, I’m not suggesting that the descendants of Jacob and the descendants of Esau could have had a different story if Jacob had simply apologized to Esau. But, perhaps a tone was set that can still teach us something today. It’s obvious we are in a time of almost constant need of reconciliation – we go around with our emotional dukes up. Maybe apologies would have saved another generation of brothers hating each other. Are we going to pass these fights on to our children, too?

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