Thursday, December 09, 2004

Column: Happy Chanukah!

Last week I spoke briefly about how Chanukah is the holiday of praise and thanksgiving. What follows will hopefully be in that spirit as I ignore the current events regarding the state of Israel and focus on the sometimes hidden and sometimes revealed nature of the Land of Israel. The state of Israel and the Land of Israel should often be looked at as two seperate things, even though they are clearly intertwined. One is a political entity and one a physical and spiritual reality where the physical and spiritual meet as they do in no other place in the world -- and more so than in any other place on the Temple Mount -- where the miracle of oil took place in the days of the Macabees.

"A great miracle happened here." That's what the Hebrew letters on some dreidels mean. Other dreidels have one different letter, which changes the meaning to "A great miracle happened there." That, if my memory serves me correctly, was pointed out to me on my first Chanukah in Israel. I never knew there were different dreidels but I was soon to begin to understand why. That understanding has grown slowly over the years as I longed to get a glimmer of what Jacob understood in his dream when he awoke and said "G-d is truly in this place but I did not know it. 'How awe-inspiring this place is! It must be G-d's temple. It is the gate to heaven!"

Jacob had his dream, which inspired those words, on the Temple Mount, where the miracle of the lights of Chanukah was to happen many generations later. That miracle was in one aspect the revelation of the holiness of the Land of Israel as the purification and rededication of the Temple immediately resulted in an open miracle.

In our generation we have merited to see what not only we but much of the world recognized as miracles in the military victories of the state of Israel. This perspective -- viewing the wars as miraculous -- has been admittedly lost as the true nature of these wars have been hidden by secularists. It is an unfortunate loss but perhaps a necessary one, as the distinction between a state that denies miracles and a people that believes in them and longs and prays for them is observeable more each year.

So, what is the nature of this land? Is it really a place of miracles where heaven and earth meet? Is it inherently different from all others? How does one experience it?

Too many questions to answer and not nearly enough space, but there is a teaching of Rabbi Nachman's that for me is most revealing and essential. It reveals that the Land of Israel and prayer and miracles are all one thing and that they are dependent one upon the other. What does this mean? I understand it as meaning (minimally) that in order to have miracles we need prayer and we need to pray in the Land of Israel. Conversely, if we want the Land of Israel we need miracles and prayer. Finally if we want true and powerful prayer we need both miracles and the Land of Israel. In short, Rabbi Nachman places a ladder before us, Jacob's ladder, which goes to heaven but rests on earth, a very special part of earth -- and which can take us to a reality that is above nature and yet the spiritual place of our true nature. It is up to us to ascend this latter, difficult as that may be, and break through to higher plane.

Chanukah was a spiritual breakthrough of enormous magnitude -- a return to our roots and the source of our hope and strength through which we merited miracles of war and spirit (light). That breakthrough brought a light into the world that we rekindle every year and which will eventually shine through in all its glory. When that day comes, I imagine that every Chanukah candle lit by every Jew throughout all of history will be lit again and that all of us will see with our own eyes our own individual contribution to that great light that will shed all darkness. For who knows the true merit of the candles we light through all the generations of darkness in the dark Diaspora as we remember the light of miracles of long ago?

A new Israeli film:

I recently saw "Ushpizin" -- a new Israeli film by Shuli Rand -- for which he won Israel's best actor award for his part in the lead role. It is the first film made by orthodox Jews in Israel. Rand is an accomplished actor who became orthodox -- in fact a follower of Rabbi Nachman. The film is a great hit here and has brought many orthodox people to the theaters who have never been before, but it is not only a hit amongst the orthodox, it is a hit with the secular as well who are inspired by some of Rabbi Nachman's most important teachings brought to life in a modern story set in Jerusalem. I don't think it is playing in New York yet but the Jerusalem Post says that a version with English subtitles is available. The film is about the struggles of a newly religious couple and how they break through the difficult realities of their lives with prayer and then miracles and in the process learn to believe in themselves too. I hope it gets there soon -- it really should be released for the holiday.

Happy Chanukah!


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