Thursday, December 14, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Miketz/Hanukkah 5778–Yodim Atem Likhvod Mah?

I love finding interesting connections/coincidences. (Which of course always make me wonder how coincidental they really are.)

There’s a popular contemporary Hanukkah song,

אָבִי הִדְלִיק נֵרוֹת לִי
וְשַׁמָּש לוֹ אֲבוּקָה –
יוֹדְעִים אַתֶּם לִכְבוֹד מַה?
לִכְבוֹד הַחֲנֻכָּה

Avi hidlik neirot li
V’shamash lo avukah
Yodim atem likhvod mah?
Likhvod HaHanukkah

My father lit some candles for me
With a shamash like a torch
Do you know what this is to honor?
To honor Hanukkah

The words are by C. N. Bialik and set to a folktune. There are four verses, each one asking the same question, which I like to put more simply:  “Do you know what this is for?” 

My father lit candses for me with a shamash like a torch. How come?
My teacher gave me a dreidl cast in lead. Why?
My mother gave me a latke, a warm sweet latke. What’s that all about?
My uncle gave me a gift, a single worn-out coin. Why did he do that?

It’s a great pedagogic technique, this act, question, and explanation.  It is reiterated at other times (notably, a similar technique is used at Pesach, both with the four questions and the four children.) I suspect Bialik was honoring this long pedagogic tradition with his poem. However, I also wonder if consciously or unconsciously, Bialik was making another connection.

The haftarah for Hanukkah is the same as is used for parashat B’ha’alot’kha, taken from Zechariah 2:14-4:7.

Let us places theses verse in context. The period is at the end of the Babylonion captivity. Cyrus the Great issued his 539 BCE edict allowing the Jews to return and rebuild their Temple. Cyrus died and Darius eventually took his place, and re-affrimed Cyrus’ edict. Zechariah, born in exile in Babylon, was among the returnees in the first wave. Work had been started on restoring the Temple, with the cornerstone laid in the second year of the return, but due to some external and internal political pressures*, as well as some ennui on the part of the returnees, work was halted on the Temple for 16 years. Managing the second wave of return are Joshua the High Priest and Zerubabbel, appointed governor of the region of Judah,

(*-It’s important to remember that those exiled to Babylon were the educated, the priests, officials, etc. Your average Ploni ben Ploni had been left behind in Babylonian-controlled Judah to labor and eke out a living in a land that was no longer under Jewish rule. One suspects that those who were stuck in Israel may not have been so gosh-darned eager to have the returnees come back to lord it all over them yet again – simply trading one master for another yet again.)

The prophet Haggai comes along in 520 BCE and gives four sermons exhorting the Israelites to rebuild the Temple. Then Haggai promptly disappears from the scene. Zechariah then takes up the cause. (His exhortations and encouragements eventually proved successful – the rebuilt Temple was done 5 years later in 515 BCE.)

Zechariah’s message to Zerubabbel and Joshua is simple – G’d will insure the Temple is rebuilt. There’s no need to take any rash actions, or fear continuing the restoration. That is essentially the message of the most well-known words from this haftarah, the ones we associate with Hanukkah the most

לֹ֤א בְחַ֙יִל֙ וְלֹ֣א בְכֹ֔חַ כִּ֣י אִם־בְּרוּחִ֔י אָמַ֖ר יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת׃

…not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, says the L”rd of Hosts. (4:6)

But where’s the connection, I hear you ask. I’m getting to that. The first 6 chapters of Zechariah contain eight different visions brought to Zechariah by an angel. The well-known words above are part of the fifth vision – that of a golden menorah framed by two olive trees.

The first three visions: the man among the myrtles, the four horns and four craftsman, and the man with the measuring line all occur before this haftrah starts. The fourth vision, the cleansing of Joshua, is the start of chapter three.

The fifth vision is chapter four. Starting with this vision, Zechariah starts asking questions of the Angel, asking the Angel to explain the meanings of the things he sees in the visions.

In this fifth vision, the Angel asks Zecharaiah: “what do you see?” Zechariah describes the menorah and the olive trees, and then asks the Angel “mah eileh?” literally “what are these?” but elucidated by the JPS committee as “”What do those things mean?”

“Do you not know what these things mean?” asks the Angel. Zecharaiah answers “No, my Lord” and proceeds to answer the question – though not in the immediate verses, starting with 4:6, which seem to be an insertion of some kind – but in the verses that come after the end of this haftarah.

In Bialik’s words, I hear the echo of the Angel asking Zechariah if he knows the meanings of these symbolic visions. Bialik has a child asking “Do you (plural) know what this is for?” Yes, the child is asking for his or herself, to understand why his father, teacher, mother, and uncle have done these things. At the same time, because the you is plural, the child is asking the adults “do YOU know why you’re doing this? Bialik doesn’t make clear who provides the answer – the adult, or the child. I think it’s just as easy to see it either way.

Is it this exchange:

Child: my father lit candles for me with a shamash as a torch.
Adult: Do you know why?
Child: For Hanukkah.

(if so, why would Bialik use the plural You?)

or this:

Child: my father lit candles for me with a shamash as a torch.
Child: Do (any/all of) you (adults) know why?
Adults: For Hanukkah!

or this:

Child: my father lit candles for me with a shamash as a torch.
Child: Do (any/all of) you (adults) know why?
Child: For Hanukkah!

Do you (plural) know why you do these things – light the hanukkiyah? Eat fired foods? play with dreidls?

Do you (plural) know what you are celebrating – religious freedom? The victory of the few over the many?

Let’s face it – there’s a lot about this story that’s unclear. Most modern scholars are fairly convinced that the miracle of the oil story was a later addition (it first appears about 500 years later, but could have originated before that – there’s just no evidence.) The Maccabees were the world first guerilla fighters. Is that something to celebrate? The House of Hashmon, the descendants of the Maccabees who rules over Israel after the Maccabean victory were among the most despotic and ill-suited rulers over Israel (and they even eventually invited the Romans in.) Dreidls are a relatively recent addition to Hanukkah, probablybased on the middle-age teetotum. The Romans and Greeks did not use 4-sided tops, but tops with more sides. Perhaps people played games to stall soldiers looking for people violating Antiochus’ edicts, perhaps not.

However, when I say those blessings, light those candles, sing Hanerot Halalu and Maoz Tzur, eat latkes and soufganiyot, and play dreidl, none of that matters. None of that matters. I know what matters.  I know why I am doing it.

I am doing it likhvod HaHanukkah.

Why are YOU doing it?

Chag Urim Sameakh and Shabbat Shalom,

©2017 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Miketz 5777 - Eizeh Hu Adayin Khakham
Miketz 5776 - Coke or Pepsi? (Or...?)
Miketz 5775 - Assimilating Assimilation
Miketz 5774 - To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
Miketz 5773 - B'li Meilitz
Miketz 5772 - A Piece of That Kit Kat Bar
Miketz 5771-What's Bothering...Me?
Miketz/Hanukkah 5769 - Redux 5763 - Assimilating Assimilation
Miketz/Hanukah 5768 Learning From Joseph and His Brothers (revised from 5757)
Miketz 5767-Clothes Make the Man?
Miketz 5766-Eizeh Hu Khakham?
Miketz 5757& 5761-Would You Buy A Used Car From This Guy?
Miketz 5763/5764/5765-Assimilating Assimilation

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