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Temple Beth El

Offering Conservative Jewish worship since 1935

83 Chestnut Street/POBox 383
Oneonta, NY 13820
Phone: (607) 432-5522
Email: TBEOneonta@gmail.com

December 2019

Dear Congregation,

Having a great interest in history, the story of Hanukah presents an interesting question. Do we base our belief and faith on myths or on verifiable history?  History can uncover the truth and to dispel myths believed in for centuries.  History can diminish one’s faith by uncovering the imperfections of our ancient leaders and the irony of their actions in light of the future effect of their actions.  Nevertheless, it is important to look at these tales and myths because the symbols that arise from them often have far more significance to us then their origins.

Our tradition teaches that “When the Hasmoneans (the priestly Maccabean group) defeated the Syrian Greeks, they wanted to rededicate the Temple, that had been defiled by the Seleucid king Antiochus and light the Temple Menorah. They searched the Temple, and found only one jar of oil which stood untouched and undefiled, with the seal of the high priest.  It contained sufficient oil for only one day’s lighting.  But a miracle occurred and the lamp remained lit for eight days, until more oil could be prepared. 

Truth be told, this is a myth found in the Talmud several centuries after the event.  Yet, here we have this beloved holiday of lighting the Menorah that has been an enduring symbol of Judaism.  Over the centuries the lighting of the Menorah has been imbued with many interpretations.  Perhaps the most significant is that it was a beacon of hope to our people during many periods of persecution in the two thousand years of exile from the land of Israel.  But there are elements in the lighting of the Menorah from which other profound meanings can be derived.  One of these elements is the Shames, the candle that is used to light the other candles.  The question asked is, from where does the Shames obtain its light? 

Nazi holocaust victim, Hannah Senesh wrote these words: 

 Blessed is the match consumed in kindling the flame.

 Blessed is the flame that burns in the heart’s secret places. 

 Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor’s sake. 

 Blessed is the match consumed in kindling the flame.

It is the blessed match that lights the Shames.  The match is the servant to the servant.  So, what is the significance of the match?  And from where does it draw its flame?  It comes from us.  May we aspire to be like the Shames candle; ready to be first to share our light.  

This is the light that we read about at the beginning of Genesis, the first entity God creates is light (energy), when he says let there be light. Our mystics in the Kabala ask what is this light?  They answer that this light is the foundation of everything in the universe and everything in the universe is connected through this light.  This is the light that binds humanity together.  It underlies the logic of the Golden Rule of “do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you“.  Perhaps this is the greatest message of the Lights of the Menorah to remind us that we are all part of the same light.

To learn more about this light, please join us for our adult education class in Jewish Mysticism at 1 PM on Saturdays when we have services. We can also use help with our Saturday morning services at 9:30 followed by our Torah study class from 11:00 to 12:00.

I wish everyone a wonderful Hanukah – A Festival of Lights, full of Light, Joy and Rededication.

Rabbi Cantor George Hirschfeld