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18 November 2017 - 1 Kislev 5778 - א' כסלו ה' אלפים תשע"ח
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Rededicate and Reintegrate Print E-mail

Chanukah offers all sorts of lessons.  Generally, we only focus on miracles, lights, and victory.  Hiding beneath these lessons, there is another one that is at the core of this holiday.  It may be disturbing to some, informative to others, but overall offers a complex look at our Jewish collective identity and our ability to cope with challenges.

Chanukah (a word which means “dedication”) is fundamentally the commemoration of an historical event, the successful revolt led by the Macabees against the Syrian Greek King Antiochus.  Yet, this story is only looked at as the backdrop of our current celebration.  

When we explain the importance of the holiday and what we celebrate, we talk about the miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting for eight days.  It’s not just us in our modern time that the focus is on the miracle instead of the history.  The rabbis of the Talmud emphasised this area, as well.

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The truth is that the events that followed the historical victory are not some of our brightest.  Yes, a small group led a revolt against a powerful enemy, but the legacy of the Maccabees (or Hasmoneans) is one filled with violence, civil war, and deceit all of which directly led to Roman conquest of Judea about 100 years after the revolt of independence that we commemorate.  This was probably one of the darkest times of Jewish leadership as dissent was met with execution and power was valued over compassion.

It’s no wonder that what we tend to focus on the miracle of the little flask of oil discovered in the desecrated Temple.  The concept of miracles is a beautiful one that reminds us that God’s presence continues to be revealed in the world.  In keeping with the rabbinic commandments regarding Chanukah, we place our lit chanukiot (Chanukah menorot) in our windows to “publicise the miracle”, not to publicise the victory.  

Some can look at this diversion as clever deception, intentional forgetting, or psychological repression.  If that was the case, the holiday might have been moved to another place in the calendar and the dark moment of history cast into the shadows, rather than being illuminated as it is every year.  This is the lesson of Chanukah that has important lessons for us all.

We all have moments in our past that we look back on with shame.  There are actions we could have done differently and other choices to have been made.  There are events that happened to us that have been devastating and humiliating.  Yet, we cannot erase those moments from our past.  We need to find the ways to integrate them into our life story and strive to live in a new way. 

Some would suggest confronting those individuals involved or offering forgiveness to those we hurt.  Others would suggest that we look at the situation differently, place the circumstance in context, and learn from it.  This is what the rabbis did with Chanukah.

There is no erasing what happened.  After a successful revolt that should have been an everlasting time of pride for the Jewish people, we were led into one of the worst times as a nation – and all by our own doing.  If we forget that we are capable of doing this to ourselves, then we run the risk of repeating it.  If we only focus on the misery, then we will wallow in the past and forget the blessings, whether obvious or hidden.  

Instead, we bring them together, focus on the positive and learn from the negative.  It may be simple reframing or more complex integration but the result is an ability to come to a new understanding about the experience and put it in its proper place in our identity.  While not all experiences can be neatly tucked away or packaged, it is generally not helpful to live in shame, anger, and guilt.  We all need the opportunity to cast a new light on those times in our personal histories, remember, reflect, and rededicate the moment.

Supplied by Jordan S. Potash, board-certified and licensed art therapist (USA).  Jordan can be contacted at www.jordanpotash.com

 

(Issue December 2007 / January 2008) 

 

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