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I am committed to a life provoking the invasion of The Coming Kingdom through: human service, ecstatic prayer, halakhic observation, community building, nurturing hope, and drawing down abiding faith...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chanukkah-Increasing in Holiness

(For any "ruachites" stumbling on the blog, this gives a good portion, though not all, of the material from my shiur last Shabbat)

Chanukkah holds two modes of redemption in tension:

1.The defeat of the foes of the Jewish people and God
2.The increasing light of the Jewish people shining forth into a dark world

The matter is best described in the famous machlochet ("disagreement") between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. Beit Shammai say we start with eight lights and gradually decrease, while Beit Hillel say we start with one light and gradually increase all eight days. The first explanations given in the gemara are that Beit Shammai count by the number of days left while Beit Hillel count by the number of days that have passed. This has a certain philosophical import, but it's pretty straightforward. It is the next set of explanations that bring the conversation to another level:

Beit Shammai corresponds to the [Sukkot] Festival
Beit Hillel [say] we increase in matters of holiness

One of the unique features of Sukkot (another 8 day holiday if you count Shemini Atzeret as a part of it) is the large portion of bull sacrifices that decreases by number as you go through the chag. These sacrifices are understood to correspond to the nations of the world. Each sacrifice is a kind of atonement for the nations. It has been suggested that these sacrifices weaken the power of the enemies of Am Yisrael and God. Now we get to the heart of the matter: Beit Shammai are essentially saying that the focus of Chanukkah is the weakening of the foes who oppose us. Beit Hillel say the focus is on the ever increasing light that comes into the world beginning with one nation and growing from there: holiness increases.

Both are valid, but we go with Beit Hillel. The simple reason is, with very few exceptions, the halakha goes with Beit Hillel. We are being taught something even more profound however: It is not the weakening of our foes that is primary for Am Yisrael but rather our increasing light into a dark world. As our light increases foes will be vanquished. Nevertheless, light warms and brightens as much as it burns and we have a responsibility to focus on brightening and warming.

It is fascinating that the only Besora that mentions Chanukkah is Yochanan's. Yochanan, more than any of the others, focuses on Yeshua as the light of the world. From him, our great shamash, all the other lights of holiness are ever-increasingly illuminated. May all chasidei Yeshua remember that we are called to be the light of the world, set ablaze by the fire for God and mankind Mashiach set in us. May we be sure to have enough oil to keep our lamps lit. As we publicize the miracle of Chanukkah, may we join all of Am Yisrael to increase in matters of holiness.

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