Adulting through Chanukah, part 2

In “Hanukkah for Grown-Ups,” Marianne Novak describes “adult initiative” needed to see rebellion as “the only viable option for the future of the Jewish people.” The previous post here noted a parallel with Psalm 30’s moments of terrifying uncertainty, as well as some challenges involved in relying on “a small section of the Jewish community to see” the way forward in terms of political action. (Details on Novak and publication below; see also previous “Thirty on Psalm 30” post.) But “adult initiative” comes in many forms. And below are a few related thoughts from another teacher.

How Big Was the Miracle?

Why do we celebrate eight nights as a “miracle,” when we are told that there was available purified oil “sufficient for one day’s lighting” (B. Talmud Shabbat 21b): Wouldn’t that make the additional seven nights miraculous but the first night ordinary?

Since Joseph Caro (16th Century, Safed; mystic and codifier of laws) posed this question — now often called “Beit Yosef’s Question” — many responses have been offered. Most of those I’ve read — and here are 25 answers distilled from many more — focus on the legal/logistical aspects of the question.

I am more interested in a more basic question…what Novak describes as the miracle of Jews seeking to rededicate the community through “being conscientious and thoughtful Jewish adults.” That, it seems to me, is the miracle of the first night: a group of Jews deciding, in less than ideal conditions, to create light where there was none in the faith that it would grow.

Hanukkah and Year Round

In his book, Seasons of Our Joy, Rabbi Arthur Waskow summarizes the two, sometimes apparently contradictory, aspects of the holiday:

  • “the standpoint of the Rabbi,” on the one hand, focusing on Zechariah’s “not by might…but by spirit” rather than “insurgent politics”;
  • “the standpoint of the Maccabee,” on the other, emphasizing “human courage and doggedness” and the “need to organize…to build might and use power…”

He then suggests that we see Hanukkah (using his spelling from here on for simplicity) as a time of darkness of both sun and moon, both military and cultural disaster, on the one hand, and spiritual darkness on the other:

The miracle at the Temple came at a moment…when even military victory had proven useless because the Temple could not be rededicated in the absence of sacred oil….

The real conflict is not between the Rabbi and the Maccabee, between spiritual and political, but between apathy and hope…

Seen this way, Hanukkah can become a time for accepting both the Maccabee and the Rabbi within us, seeing them as different expressions of the need to experience despair and turn toward hope. Seen this way, Hanukkah can become a resource to help us experience our moments of darkness whenever they occur throughout the year– and strike new sparks.
— Waskow (Boston: Beacon Press, 1982), p. 100

This view of Hanukkah brings us back to Psalm 30, as Psalm of the Day, prompts us to acknowledge darkness and weeping which “tarries for the night” as well as joy that “comes in the morning.” Moreover, Psalm 30 can be part of Hanukkah as a resource for the whole year, reminding us in the daily liturgy to acknowledge the darkness, insecurity, and weeping we and/or others in our community may be experiencing before we move on to celebrating:

You turned my mourning into dancing;
You loosed my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness;
So that my glory may sing praise to You, and not be silent;
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You for ever.
— verses 12-13 (1917 JPS slightly adapted)



24 of 30 on Psalm 30
No Longer National Novel Writing Month, but continuing the focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) begun as a NaNoWriMo-Rebel project. Whole series (so far).


NOTE:
A bio for Marianne Novak appears at Maharat Yeshivat, where she is in the class of 2019. Her dvar torah was published as part of The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance‘s “Shema Beoklah: Hear Her Voice” series. Earlier installments in the series are available online. publication is available

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Adulting through Chanukah, part 1

In “Hanukkah for Grown-Ups,” Marianne Novak describes differences between Purim — another holiday that is not commanded in the bible but delineated later by the Rabbinic tradition — and Hanukkah (I’ll uses JOFA’s spelling here for simplicity):

With Hanukkah, Antiochus enforced severe decrees but didn’t chose a specific doomsday for the Jewish people, as Haman does in Megillat Esther [the Purim story]. The Jews in the Persian Empire had no choice to but act. It was do or die. but with Hanukkah, it took the understanding of a small section of the Jewish community to see that the situation was indeed dire. They had to make the decision alone: There was no clear voice from God…It took adult initiative to comprehend why rebellion was the only viable option for the future of the Jewish people.
— “Shema Bekolah: Hear Her Voice series
from The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance

This reminds me of Psalm 30, verses 7-8, in which the psalmist describes terror when God’s face is hidden:

וַ֭אֲנִי אָמַ֣רְתִּי בְשַׁלְוִ֑י בַּל־אֶמּ֥וֹט לְעוֹלָֽם׃

When I was untroubled, I thought, “I shall never be shaken,”

יְֽהוָ֗ה בִּרְצוֹנְךָ֮ הֶעֱמַ֪דְתָּה לְֽהַרְרִ֫י עֹ֥ז הִסְתַּ֥רְתָּ פָנֶ֗יךָ הָיִ֥יתִי נִבְהָֽל׃

for You, O Lord, when You were pleased, made [me] firm as a mighty mountain. When You hid Your face, I was terrified.

The expression is sometimes employed to mean that God is not apparent to the individual due to their own or the community’s sin. In the Purim story and some other narratives, common readings see God’s hand throughout, however lost and frightened the actors within the story may be. In the Joseph story, as well, Jacob and his sons take many actions — including selling Joseph into slavery — without narrative direction from God. But eventually Joseph declares that it was all God’s doing: “God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance” (Genesis 45:7).

In her piece on Hanukkah, Novak concludes:

…It was truly a miracle that a small group of Jews from within a Jewish community was able to rededicate Israel to Judaism. When we publicize the miracles of Hanukkah, we not only note God’s hand in the story but also remind ourselves that we can take responsibility for the survival of our people. By being conscientious and thoughtful Jewish adults, we also have faith that God will then come and help us.

This is a powerful, troubling conclusion. In the times of Antiochus and the Maccabean revolt, as at most other times in Jewish history, I suspect, there are a number of small groups seeking to rededicate Israel to Judaism. Yes, we must take responsibility for the survival of our people, but — without direct command from God — we must tread very carefully as none of us know WHICH of our many small groups has chosen the direction that will succeed or how any damage we do to one another on the way may not be repaired.

23 of 30 on Psalm 30
No Longer National Novel Writing Month, but continuing the focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) begun as a NaNoWriMo-Rebel project. Whole series (so far).



NOTE: This new piece — which arrived through snail mail! — was not yet posted on their website, as of Dec. 7, although there are plenty of other fine teachings on this holiday and many other topics. I suspect this piece will be posted soon. And anyone interested can join their snail-mail list.
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The Pits and the Lights

There are several parallels between Psalm 30 and the Joseph story, including their pits.

Psalm 30 praises God for having “preserved me from going down into the Pit [bor, בֽוֹר]”:

יְֽהוָ֗ה הֶֽעֱלִ֣יתָ מִן־שְׁא֣וֹל נַפְשִׁ֑י חִ֝יִּיתַ֗נִי מיורדי־[מִיָּֽרְדִי־] בֽוֹר׃
O LORD, You brought me up from Sheol, preserved me from going down into the Pit.

In this week’s Torah portion (Mikeitz, Gen 41:1-44:17), Joseph is finally brought up from the dungeon [min-habor, מִן־הַבּ֑וֹר] (Gen 41:14), while Joseph is earlier thrown into a pit by his brothers (Gen 37: 23-24).

During the earlier incident, Judah says, “What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood?” (Gen 37:26) — language that is similar to Ps 30:10: “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit?” And then Jacob, upon learning of his son’s apparent demise, says he will go down to Sheol in mourning (37:35), like the psalmist in verse 4.

In addition to these language echoes, Psalm 30 and the Joseph story share basic themes of extreme reversals from despair to joy, from strength to terror and back again. Many teachers have noticed the parallels, although no favorite dvrei torah on the subject come to mind. (Please share any that you find helpful.) Moreover, the context of Chanukah brings additional light-and-darkness focus to Psalm 30.

Does Psalm 30 sound different while we’re reading the Joseph story? During these festival days?

22 of 30 on Psalm 30
No Longer National Novel Writing Month, but continuing the focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) begun as a NaNoWriMo-Rebel project. Whole series (so far).

Dedications

Medieval commentary on the holiday of Chanukah asks, “How many dedications [channukot] were there?” The answer is that there were seven, and we are offered two lists.

Seven Dedications:

  1. heaven and earth,
  2. the wall of Jerusalem, in the time of Nehemiah,
  3. the Second Temple, “those who came up from exile,”
  4. of the priests — the Hasmonean re-dedication,
  5. the world to come,
  6. of princes (Bamidbar), and,
  7. finally, the First Temple: “The dedication of the Sanctuary [v’chanukat hamikdash, וחנוכת המקדש], which this is speaking of ‘A psalm; a song of dedication of the House, of David’ (Psalm 30:1).”

Immediately following, we read, “Another explanation. There are seven channukot,” with a slightly different list:

Another explanation:

  1. creation of the world,
  2. completion of the Mishkan by Moses,
  3. the First Temple: “The dedication of the House [v’chanukat habayit, וחנוכת הבית], as it is written “A psalm; a song of dedication of the House, of David” (Psalm 30:1).”
  4. the Second Temple,
  5. the wall of Jerusalem,
  6. the “current one of the House of Hasmonean,”
  7. the world to come, “because even that has lights.”

— See Pesikta Rabbati Chapter 2 for both lists, associated citations, and more commentary on Chanukah.

The second list above includes “dedication of the House” (“chanukat habayit“) in what seems like a chronological order, from creation of the world, to world to come. The first uses the expression “v’chanukat hamikdash,” translated as “dedication of the Sanctuary,” in a list that looks less chronological — its ordering is obscure to me — but culminates with Sanctuary.

Jewish tradition includes many notions about “sanctuary,” from the metaphorical — understanding mikdash as a symbol of the covenantal relationship with God or a representation of the human body-soul, for example — to the concrete/political, as in Mikdash: The Jewish Sanctuary Movement, protecting today’s immigrants. Many Jews see Chanukah as an opportunity to rededicate sanctuary, however that is understood.

Tonight we light the first candle. As the eight nights progress, we’ll consider more about dedication and the words of Psalm 30, Chanukah’s psalm for the day. How, and to what, are you rededicating?
twocandles

21 of 30 on Psalm 30
No Longer National Novel Writing Month (NoLoNaNoWriMo?), but continuing the focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) begun as a NaNoWriMo-Rebel project. Whole series (so far).

NOTE: This post was updated on the evening of 12/3/18 with corrected lists of the dedications, with help from Norman Shore.

Mouse and Menorah

In Perek Shira, as noted in the previous two posts, verses from Psalm 30 join a chorus of praise in which “each of God’s creatures, plants and animals, mountains and rivers, sings out to its Creator in a special way.” Our prayers, are part of a “cosmic symphony” says Rabbi Arthur Green:

The prayers of Israel are recited in a special language and a distinctive form. There is a way in which they belong to the Jewish people and to us alone. But prayer is also a universal act, one that binds the whole human community together with all of nature, calling forth in us an appreciation of life as an ongoing celebration of the gift of being.
— from Kol Haneshemah (citation below)

This idea leads to the commentary in Pesikta Rabbati — medieval commentary on the holidays — which tells us that there were seven dedications, channukot, from dedication of heaven and earth in Breishit to the “dedication of the world to come, because even that has lights…”

More on the seven dedications as November (National Novel Writing Month) ends and Chanukah begins.

20 of 30 on Psalm 30
As a National Novel Writing Month Rebel, I write each day of November while not aiming to produce a novel. This year I focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) in the hope that its powerful language will help us through these days of turmoil and toward something new, stronger and more joyful, as individuals and as community. Whole series (so far)…. Look for this not-necessarily-novel writing project to extend into Chanukah, which begins just as NaNoWriMo ends, and apologies to anyone who is bothered by the strange posting schedule.

Mouse and Menorah.jpg

NOTE:
Comment appears on page 704 of Kol Haneshemah: Shabbat V’chagim, the prayerbook published by Reconstructionist Press, 1996. Full citation at Source Materials. For more on Art Green, visit his website.

Kol Haneshemah includes select verses from Perek Shira as an alternative P’sukei D’zimrah. Among them is the first Mouse verse, translated as follows:

The mouse says: “I shall exalt you, O REDEEMING ONE, for you delivered me, and gave my enemies no joy on my account.” (Psalm 30:2).

Kol Haneshemah does not include the verse-conversation when the mouse is captured by the cat. See “And the Mouse Says” and “Glory and the Swallow” for more on Perek Shira.
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Dedication

The previous post looked at some of the “bridge” concepts employed to explain Psalm 30’s function in its regular liturgical spot, at the close of the morning blessings, and before the psalms/verses of song. Another explanation for the placement of Psalm 30 is that it was the “psalm of the day” for the holiday of Chanukah and then crept, perhaps by printer’s error, into daily prayers. But how is it connected to Chanukah in the first place?

Rededication and Superscription

Marc Brettler, professor of Biblical Literature at Brandeis University and co-founder of Project TABS (Torah and Biblical Scholarship), notes that the expression “chasidim” — translated as “faithful ones,” “righteous” or “pious” — was used at the time of the Maccabean revolt for those loyal to the Hasmonean cause. Because of this word choice and the psalm’s focus on rescue from a desperate situation, he argues:

…someone (on the wining side) after the Hasmonean victory in 164 BCE could have read Psalm 30 and imagined: “David prophesized this about us!” The psalm, for that very reason, may even have been recited as part of the dedication ceremony on Chanukah in 164 BCE since it was seen as broadly appropriate—or even prophetic—to what had happened.
— Brettler, “Reciting Psalm 30 on Chanukah: A Biblical Custom?

Brettler hypothesizes a timeline that goes like this:

  1. The original superscription was מזמור לדוד, “a psalm of David,” with no particular association with the Temple;
  2. During the Maccabean revolt, the winners identified themselves as the “chasidim,” whose success was prophesized by David in this psalm;
  3. The psalm may have been incorporated into the Temple rededication;
  4. At this time, the words שיר חנכת הבית, “A song for the dedication of the House,” entered the margins of a manuscript, noting that Psalm 30 was recited at the rededication and “that, perhaps, Jews were supposed to recite each year during Chanukah”;
  5. Eventually, the words entered the Psalter, awkwardly placed between the words מזמור, “A psalm” and לדוד, “of David.”

— See article cited above for a much fuller explanation and argument


Superscription and Rededication

The Jerusalem Commentary assumes the converse of Brettler’s conjecture:

We do not find anywhere in rabbinic literature that a special psalm was recited by the Levites in the Temple on Hanukkah. The passages in [8th and 9th Century sources] refer to synagogue customs after the destruction of the Temple. If we assume that this psalm was recited on Hanukkah in the Temple, it would stand to reason that the Hasmoneans said it on Hanukkah because they interpreted the dedication, “a song at the dedication of the house,” as an allusion to their own rededication of the Temple.
The Jerusalem Commentary (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 2003), p.228

The Jerusalem Commentary adds that assuming Psalm 30 was recited at the (re)dedication of the Temple is based on the belief “that the psalm is the prayer of the entire nation.” This means interpreting “healing” as “deliverance from enemies, for each dedication of the Temple was preceded by God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from their enemies” (p.229).

Many commentaries on Psalm 30 focus on an individual’s healing and rescue — that of the psalmist, the person reciting, or a person whose healing is sought. In Samuel Barth’s interpretation (cited in the previous post and linked again here), “rededication” of the “inner temple” can also apply to an individual.

Rabbi Folger’s study (quoted in the previous post and linked again here) offers an interesting sidebar: His review of older prayer books suggests that the opening line, “A song for the dedication of the House,” of Psalm 30 might have been recited only on Chanukah, while the body of the psalm, beginning with “I will extol…,” was regularly recited in the morning. Perhaps the psalm is read differently on different occasions.


12 of 30 on Psalm 30
As a National Novel Writing Month Rebel, I write each day of November while not aiming to produce a novel. This year I focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) in the hope that its powerful language will help us through these days of turmoil and toward something new, stronger and more joyful, as individuals and as community. Whole series (so far)…apologies, again,for multiple-post days; almost caught up.

The House and First Fruits

The Mishnah reports that Psalm 30, or at least its opening verse, was recited by the Levites when worshippers brought First Fruits:

THE FLUTE WAS PLAYING BEFORE THEM TILL THEY REACHED THE TEMPLE MOUNT; AND WHEN THEY REACHED THE TEMPLE MOUNT EVEN KING AGRIPPA WOULD TAKE THE BASKET AND PLACE IT ON HIS SHOULDER AND WALK AS FAR AS THE TEMPLE COURT. AT THE APPROACH TO THE COURT, THE LEVITES WOULD SING THE SONG: ‘I WILL EXTOL THEE, O LORD, FOR THOU HAST RAISED ME UP, AND HAST NOT SUFFERED MINE ENEMIES TO REJOICE OVER ME’.
— Bikkurim 3:4
[not meant as shouting: all caps printers’ custom distinguishes Mishnah from Gemara]

The First Fruits ceremony also included the recitation beginning “My father was a wandering Aramean” (Deut 26:5-10) now included in the Passover Haggadah (Bikkurim 3:6). This passage recalls years of affliction and oppression before getting to “Now I bring the first fruits of the soil which You, God, have given me.” Together with Psalm 30, these verses convey the theme that all wealth, success, and well-being come from God.

Together, the “Wandering Aramean” passage and Psalm 30 warn against the kind of complacency described in Ps 30:7: “When I was well, I said, ‘Never will I falter.'” They also convey the theme that struggle, too, is part of relationship with God.

Struggle and God

Sometimes, as in the Pesach recitation, we relate what sounds like a positive conclusion to troubles that were part of a divine plan. And, in the context of First Fruits, Psalm 30 also rings a note of ultimate triumph and praise, concluding with “I will praise You forever.”

In the language of Psalm 30, however, we see at least three models of suffering and response: First, God assists before any call; next, suffering and joy are entwined in a regular cycle; finally, the psalmist calls out and God responds:

  1. I extol You, GOD,
    for you have lifted me up,
    and not let my enemies rejoice over me. (30:1)
  2. …One may lie down weeping at nightfall;
    but at dawn there are shouts of joy. (30:5)
  3. …When You hid Your face, I was terrified.
    I called to You, GOD; to My Lord I made appeal….
    You turned my lament into dancing…(30:8-12)

In the third example, “You hid Your face” is sometimes understood as intentional on God’s part and sometimes opaque, best:

God’s presence is very reassuring, while God’s absence creates panic. The psalmist shares the biblical idea that God sometimes “hides His face” from us….This hiding of God’s face may result from human misbehavior, but equally, God sometimes hides His face for no clear reason at all and needs to be “called back.”
My People’s Prayer Book, p.195 (full citation)

In the context of the morning liturgy, any triumph over anxiety and suffering seems very fragile. We’ll be back at this spot tomorrow morning — not unlike Bill Murray repeating Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993). And, in the end, this is not all that different from the recitation at First Fruits and Pesach, with its seemingly triumphant conclusion. After all, a good harvest is never guaranteed, and at least some portion of the Jewish people will likely be at a seder table again next year.

fruits market

Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

8 of Thirty on Psalm 30

As a National Novel Writing Month Rebel, I write each day of November while not aiming to produce a novel. This year I focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) in the hope that its powerful language will help us through these days of turmoil and toward something new, stronger and more joyful, as individuals and as community. Whole series (so far)….apologies for days with multiple posts, as the blog catches up with my notes.


My People’s Prayer Book: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries
Vol. 5 — Birkhot Hashachar (Morning Blessings)
Lawrence A. Hoffman, ed. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2001. p.195
Comment is from the “Bible” thread provided by Marc Brettler
Marc Zvi Brettler is Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Literature at Brandeis University.
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