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

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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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And the Mouse Says…

In addition to the swallow, the mouse [עַכְבָּר] also speaks a verse from Psalm 30 in Perek Shira:

עַכְבָּר אוֹמֵר. אֲרוֹמִמְךָ יְיָ כִּי דִלִּיתָנִי וְלֹא־שִׂמַּחְתָּ אֹיְבַי לִי׃ (תהלים ל ב)
And the Mouse says, “I extol You, O LORD, for You have impoverished me/lifted me up, and not let my enemies rejoice over me.” (Ps. 30:2)
— Perek Shira, Chapter 5; more on the Mouse below

As with “kavod” in verse 13 — which, as previously discussed, is translated in many ways in addition to “glory” — דִלִּיתָנִי [dilitani] has a number of translations. But the one used in Nosson [Natan] Slifkin’s 2003 translation of Perek Shira stands far apart:

    • The 1917 JPS has “Thou hast raised me up” for “dilitani” in Psalm 30;
    • The 1985 JPS has “You have lifted me up”;
    • Other translations use “delivered,” as well as “lifted” and “raised”;
    • Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi has the less usual, “you set me free so that my enemies could not gloat at my troubles”;
    • Slifkin alone has “impoverished me.”

…The Hebrew word for “impoverish” (decrease, deplete, etc…), דִּלֵּל (dileil), shares a dalet-lamed pair with dillitani. Possibly Slifkin is following a line of commentary that uses the similarity to translate the verb as “impoverish.” In the context of Perek Shira, some version of lifting would seem to parallel the warning, “from there I will bring you down” (Obadiah 1:4) which is uttered by the Cat. (See note below for links to the whole conversation between Cat and Mouse.) For the purposes of “Thirty on Psalm 30,” however, we can return to the ways dillitani is understood in the context of the psalm itself….

A Few Notes on dillitani

The Hebrew word here comes from a root meaning “to draw water” and probably originally referred to drawing water up from a well. It may have retained this connotation when this psalm was written: water and well imagery abounds in the Bible…
— Joel Hoffman (“What the Prayers Really Say” commentator), My People’s Prayer Book, vol.5

The following quotation is from The Jerusalem Commentary (broken up here into easier to read lines but otherwise unchanged:

You have lifted me up,” is derived from the root דלה, DLH (see Exodus 2:19: “And he also drew water [דָּלֹה דָלָה daloh dalah] for us”), whose primary meaning is “drawing water from a deep place.” [NOTE: OUr verse is the only example in the Bible of the root דלה, DLH, in the pi’el conjugation.] The expression, “You have lifted me up,” bears various interpretations:

  • …from my humble position (as in Psalm 113:7: “He raises the poor from the dust”);
  • You have lifted me up from my sickbed;
  • You have raised me from the underworld, as is stated in verse 4, below…
  • You kept me alive, that I should not go down into the pit” (the word דִלִּיתָנִי, dillitani, hints at the pail [דְּלִי, d’li] which is used to draw water from a well);
  • You have granted me victory over my enemies.

At all events, the word דִלִּיתָנִי, dillitani, corresponds to the word אֲרוֹמִמְךָ, aromimkha: You have lifted me up, and I will extol You (lift You up).”

More later.


19 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.

NOTE
In fact, the Mouse is one of the few animals who speaks more than one line in Perek Shira. The others are the Rooster, which speaks eight times, and the Cat, which speaks once before and once after catching the Mouse.

After being captured by the Cat —

וְעַכְבָּר אוֹמֵר. וְאַתָּה צַדִּיק עַל כׇּל־הַבָּא עָלַי כִּי־אֱמֶת עָשִׂיתָ וַאֲנִי הִרְשָֽׁעְתִּי
And the Mouse concedes, “You are just for all that comes upon me, for you have acted truthfully, and I have been wicked.”

This second Mouse speech is a singular version of the plural expression of Nehemiah 9:33:

וְאַתָּ֣ה צַדִּ֔יק עַ֖ל כָּל־הַבָּ֣א עָלֵ֑ינוּ כִּֽי־אֱמֶ֥ת עָשִׂ֖יתָ וַאֲנַ֥חְנוּ הִרְשָֽׁעְנוּ׃
Surely You are in the right with respect to all that has come upon us, for You have acted faithfully, and we have been wicked.

There is undoubtedly a lot to pursue here. But it’s tangential to Psalm 30 — and Perek Shira is not something I’ve studied before.

See the whole exchange between Cat and Mouse at Sefaria. The dialogue appears in a slightly different order in this (PDF) booklet version, Perek Shira (Slifkin).
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BACK to translation discussion

Glory and the Swallow

Ps. 30:13, discussed in several post here, appears in Perek Shira, a long, ancient hymn to creation in which the earth, ocean, lightening bolts, dew, and many creatures each speak a verse from Tanakh. Many of the quotations are from Psalms, but also Job, Song of Songs, the Prophets, and other texts. Ps. 30:13 is attributed to the swallow:

The Swallow is saying, “So that my soul shall praise You, and shall not be silent, God my Lord, I shall give thanks to You forever.” [30:13]
— Chapter 4, Perek Shira

Links to the full text in Hebrew and English and a few more details below.

In “Glory versus Silence,” the most recent post in this series, I asked if we can find our own glory if others are silenced, given that our liberation and joy is bound up together. I confess that I had in mind human “others.” Perek Shira reminds me that my liberation and joy is also bound up with with the rest of Creation….And this image reminds me that praise and prayer come in many formats and languages.

Golondrina


Psalm 30, because of its language about healing and rescue, is often linked with prayers related to these concerns, as is Perek Shira. “El Sabor del Rimon,” the blog offering the beautiful series of images linked to Perek Shira, also shares reflections on many related topics. Among those are thoughts on prayers for healing when they do not appear to be answered in the way that was hoped. One teaching suggests that such prayers might be helping someone else in the community — which brings us back to the concept that we are all connected and no one’s liberation, joy, or healing happens in a vacuum.


18 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.


NOTE
The entire “Chapter of Song,” translated by Aharon N. Varady and R. Natan Slifkin, as well as some introductory material from a 1967 facsimile edition, appears at Open Siddur. The text and similar translation is also on Sefaria, without the introduction, in another format. (The psalms citation to the Swallow’s verse is wrong there — if anyone knows how to correct it, please advise or just contact Sefaria.)
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Perek Shira Saved
There is also a custom, among some Jews, to recite Perek Shira for 40 days in hopes of an engagement, or help with business problems, as well as for healing. Some include in their intentions a promise to publish positive results….

…Seems to me I recall Catholics did something similar with prayers to St. Anthony, maybe, with praise published in the classifieds. (Anyone know about this?) Photo above came from Judaism StackExchange.
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