A few years ago Assaf Wole, an Israeli columnist, wrote a cute piece about two children – one Ultra-Orthodox and one secular – questioning their fathers about the essence of Chanuka. With his great knack for satire he portrayed the secular father trying to avoid discussion of the religious motivation behind the Maccabees’ revolt and the Ultra-Orthodox parent squirming when his child begins to understand that the righteous Maccabees actually went to the army. In all seriousness, there is much to be learned from Chanuka as to the way of life towards which we should be striving.
My father referred me to an article written by Rav Avigdor Amiel before 1948. Rav Amiel points out a very interesting fact: the only Jewish holiday that commemorates an event that occurred in the land of Israel is Chanuka! He continues to argue that the main message to be learned from this holiday is that there was a time that we lived a natural Jewish life in our own land and that it will one day return.
What is a ‘natural Jewish life’? It’s living the American dream – in Israel! It is the harmonious blend of spirituality and materialistic abundance. It means that all Jews in Israel are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I have a great appreciation for religious censorship because it tends to highlight great books and passages that I would otherwise not be aware exist. One of my favorites is the Chatam Sofer in his commentary on tractate Sukka 36a (won’t be found in new editions, but Bar-Ilan’s Responsa Project has a good old edition that has it).
The Chatam Sofer writes that it is a mitzvah to work the fields of Israel and gather its produce as the Torah promises great agricultural abundance and commands us to go out and collect the fruit of our toil. He claims that just as no one would contemplate giving up wearing tefillin due to being preoccupied with Torah study, so too there is no concept of bittul Torah in regards to agricultural activity in Israel. The Chatam Sofer concludes with suggesting that this concept is valid not only in regards to agriculture rather to any profession that strengthens Jewish life in Israel. I can definitely understand why this passage was censored…
So, as we cherish the beautiful family moments we share during candle lighting on Chanukka, let us reflect on the glorious Jewish era that we were privileged to in the past and that is slowly but surely returning as you read these lines.