Tag: Chanukah

8 Blogs of Chanukah: Why did Antiochus’ army ruin all the oil in the Jerusalem Temple?

8 Blogs for 8 Nights of Chanukah
Blog #1: Oil and the Secret of the Jew

Question: Why did Antiochus’ army ruin all the oil in the Jerusalem Temple?

When Antiochus’ Assyrian-Greeks entered the Jerusalem Temple, they contaminated all the oils that were in the Temple. One would expect them to plunder the Temple’s gold and silver, the precious stones, as is the custom of warriors — yet the Talmud makes no mention of this type of pillaging. What possessed the Assyrian-Greeks to single-mindedly go about desecrating the oil, and with such thoroughness that it was only through a miracle that one jug was left untouched?

Oil played an important role in the Temple. It was used in special offerings and to fuel the Menorah. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and kings were anointed with it. What is special about oil?

The Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) point to oil’s refusal to mix with other liquids. Oil always rises to the top. It is a liquid that embodies transcendence, holiness. In Kabbalistic terms, oil is the embodiment of that aspect of the soul that relates to the Holy One in a manner that transcends intellect. Oil is the intuitive love and commitment of the soul to God that is not bound by the strictures of rationality and reasoning.

It was the “oil” aspect of the Jew, our commitment to God/godliness/holiness, that the Assyrian-Greeks could not abide. Our devotion to ethical living. Our commitment to social justice. Our Torah-based demand that we and the world live in a way that brings into the world tzedek (justice), emet (truth), ahava (love) and shalom (peace). When each of my actions is Godly-deed, an act that is bigger than me, that then becomes threating to those who would taint the world with egotism, self-indulgence and fear.

And so Antiochus’ armies went after the oil. Every enemy goes after the life-source of their opponent — the wells, the food stocks. The Assyrian-Greeks went after the oil. For therein resides the secret of the Jew.

This Chanukah, as you light candles (even if they are fueled by wax instead of oil), remember that we celebrate – in part – because of the triumph of holy living, ethical living, over self-interest, egotism and fear.

Come back each night to the blog for another of these 8 Blogs for 8 Nights: Answers to Questions You Never Thought About, which enhance your understanding of Chanukah. If you would answer the question differently, share your insights in a comment. I will make a donation to tzedakah for every comment written.

For Chanukah Resources to enhance your celebration – songsheets, blessing sheets, 8 Nights of Chanukah Tzedakah, 8 stories, and more – go to www.orami.org/chanukah

[Adapted from Victory of Light – Mitzvat Ner Chanukah 5738/1977, a discourse by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.]

#7: Candle of Cool Music

With just two more days left until Chanukah concludes, its time to jazz up your celebration. We all have old favorite Chanukah music and songs. Like our Cantor Doug Cotler does regularly, a group of Jewish musicians have taken old Chanukah songs and put them in exciting new musical vessels. Here are five newish songs.

Listen to them with your loved ones and then vote on your favorite on the top right of the blog.

Hip Country Western Dreidel by Julie Silver, It’s Chanukah Time
She’s Cantor Doug’s Friend.
Listen here.

Upbeat Dreidel by Sacha Baron Cohen, Songs in the Key of Hanukkah
Watch a Video of the song Dreidel
Listen to National Public Radio’s interview with the singer.

Swingin’ Dreidel by Kenny Ellis, Hanukkah Swings!
Listen here.
Watch a video of Kenny’s Dreidel

Reggae Chanukah: Nes Gadol by Reggae Chanukah

Jazz Piano Dreidel by Jon Simon, Hanukkah and All That Jazz

Don’t forget to vote for your favorite on the top right side of the blog.

Blog Tzedakah: Thanks to the three of you who left comments, I donated $9 to the Madraygot 12 Step Addiction Education and Prevention Fund. Through your comments, I have donated a total $162.00 to tzedakah.

I gave my blog Tzedakah today by donating blood to the American Red Cross. They took a lot of it. The experience was wonderful, except for the part where they pricked my finger (that’s always the worst part).

Chag Chanukah Samayach – Happy Chanukah

#6: Candle of Fulfillment (Or Review Your Chanukah “To Do” List)

Chanukah Candle #6. Sheish(Hebrew), sittä (Iraqi Arabic), settä (Moroccan Arabic), genep (Sudanese), six. Happy Sixth Night of Chanukah.

Blog Thots: As the Festival of Chanukah moves toward its eighth day culmination, it behooves us to take a moment to double check that we have fulfilled all of the mitzvot and customs of this Festival of Lights. Living in a culture marked by the commercialization of the “holiday season” and its simplification of all holidays into “it’s all about good will to all and giving presents”, we want to be doubly sure that we have created for ourselves and our loved ones a meaningfully Jewish festival.

So review your Chanukah “to do” list. Ask yourself if you have fulfilled your Jewish responsibility. This Chanukah, did we:

  • Tell: Told the Chanukah story at least twice (if not, click here)
  • Sing: Sang Chanukah songs at least three nights (if not, click here)
  • Bless: Blessed the each night (click here)
  • Light: Lit the Chanukah candles each night (click here)
  • Be Thankful: That your list doesn’t include “clean the garage” like mine does!
  • Play: Played Driedel at least once (if not, get rules here or play virtual dreidel here)
  • Learn: Learned something new about our Festival of Lights (if not, click here or here)
  • Give: Given tzedakah (donation) to a charitable organization or cause (at least one night instead of presents) (Perhaps choose one of these)
  • Eat: Eaten potato latkes or sufganiot (if health and dietary restrictions allow for it)
  • Diet?: Why is all this Jewish holiday food so fattening? (New ideas for healthy-er Hanukkah latkes and Ima on and off the Bima’s Baked Sufganiot/doughnuts).
  • Honor: Honored parent(s) if alive by dedicating at least one night to giving them presents and/or by calling them and telling them you love them (What does Torah mean by honoring parents? Click here)
  • Contemplate: Contemplated the meaning of the candles? Of Religious Freedom?
  • Remember: Remembered (and shared with others) memories of Chanukah celebrations as a child or from previous years (view Or Ami’s memory pictures here and here).
  • Thank: Offered thanks for the blessings you most appreciate in your life
  • Comment: Shared a comment on Rabbi Kipnes’ 8 Blogs for 8 Nights (of Chanukah). For each comment left on the blog, Rabbi Kipnes will donate tzedakah to a worthy cause (see below).

If you missed any of these mitzvah and kodesh (holiness) opportunities, dedicate yourself to doing so tonight or in the next two nights.

Or, if in Southern California, come to
Congregation Or Ami’s
Multigenerational Chanukah Celebration tonight
(Friday, December 26, 2008) at 6:30 pm.
Come early; it will be standing room only!

Blog Tzedakah: Running total of Blog Comment Tzedakah: $153.00
The five of you who left comments yesterday ensured that collectively, we donated $15 of my money the Madraygot (12 Step) Addiction Prevention fund, which offers drug and alcohol addiction prevention education and counseling for grades 4 through 12, creates tools for parents through an online resource, and develops Jewish 12 Step support groups. Learn more about its activities here. Today’s Tzedakah: Leave a comment today (below) on this blog to shine the light. For every comment made today, I’ll make a tzedakah donation to help foster kids seeking a brighter future. Learn more about its activities here. To donate yourself, click here.

Chag Chanukah Samayach – Happy Chanukah!

#4: The Candle of Contemplation

Chanukah Candle #4. Arbah (Hebrew), cuatro (Spanish), maha (Tahitian), chwar (Kurdish).
Happy Fourth Night of Chanukah.

Chanukah Blog Thots:

A Story
Learned from Rabbi Cheryl Peretz
There is wonderful Hasidic story, told of a conversation between the rabbi and a member of his community. The man once asked: “Rabbi, what is a Jew’s task in this world?” The rabbi answered: “A Jew is a lamp-lighter on the streets of the world. In olden days, there was a person in every town who would light the gas street lamps with a light he carried on the end of a long pole. On the street corners, the lamps sat, ready to be lit. A lamp-lighter has a pole with a flame supplied by the town. He knows that the fire is not his own and he goes around lighting the lamps on his route.” The man then asked: “But what if the lamp is in a desolate wilderness?” The rabbi responded: “Then, too, one must light it. Let it be noted that there is a wilderness and let the wilderness be shamed by the light.” Not satisfied, the man asked: “But what if the lamp is in the middle of the sea?” The rabbi responded: “Then one must take off one’s clothes, jump into the water, and light it there!”

“And that is the Jew’s mission?” asked the man. The rabbi thought for a long moment and finally responded: “Yes, that is a Jew’s calling.” The man continues – “But rabbi, I see no lamps.” The rabbi responds: “That is because you are not yet a lamp-lighter.”

So, the man inquires: “How does one become a lamplighter?” The rabbi’s answer this time? One must begin by preparing oneself, cleansing oneself, becoming more spiritually refined, then one is able to see the other as a source of light, waiting to be ignited. When, heaven forbid, one is crude, then one sees but crudeness; but, when one is spiritually noble, one sees the nobility everywhere.”

How can We Prepare Ourselves to be Lamp-lighters?

First, see the candles for what they may represent:
Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz teaches:

Traditional Chanukah lights had three elements: oil, wick and fire. The fire ignites the wick, and the oil (or, today, the wax candle) provides fuel for a continuous flame.

To succeed in any endeavor, we need the same three elements: The creative spark (the flame) , that must be given form (the wick), and the form must be given sustenance (the oil or wax).
The Hebrew words for flame, wick and oil are נר (ner), פתיל (petil) and שמן (shemen).
Taken together, the first letters of each word—נ (nun), פ (phey) and ש (shin)—form the Hebrew word נפש (nefesh), or soul.

A candle is a symbol of the soul. To prepare ourselves, let us pay attention to each element as we kindle the Chanukah lights: the creative spark of the flame, the wick that gives form to the flame, and the oil that keeps the flame alive.

Next, Be Attentive to the Soul Within
Rabbi Jonathan Slater teaches:

The miracle of Chanukah – according to the Talmud, and as emphasized by Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev – was that the single cruse of oil lasted for eight days. Those ancient Maccabees looked at the container of oil and, based on their previous experience, decided that it was sufficient for only one day. They decided that there the container did not have the capacity to keep the flame burning for more than one day. Then they experienced its persistence as a miracle. They learned of the power of the Holy One in that manner.

Similarly, we look at ourselves (and others) and, based on previous experience – based on personal preference, fear, bias, hope, anxiety, or need – we determine what we (or they) can or cannot do. Then, something else happens, beyond what had been expected, and we learn of God’s power.

Similarly, when we light a candle, we expect it to stay lit as it burns, and we expect that it will finally burn out. What we often fail to notice is that in each moment that it is burning, something is actually happening. We note the beginning and the end, and say “Well, we lit it and now it’s done” yet we miss the middle, the time when its existence, when the interaction of wax, wick and flame produce light and heat, demonstrates God’s sustaining, enlivening power. And, so too do we miss so much in our lives.

Take Time to Contemplate

Tonight, take some time after you light the candles to examine then. Use this time to notice each miraculous moment of their existence. Hold your attention in them as they burn. Attend each moment. Notice each flicker, each crackle, each plume of smoke. Then open yourself to the possibility that there are miraculous moments within your own existence as well. In this way, you become your own lamp-lighter.

This Chanukah, may your soul shine brightly in all the in-between moments. This Chanukah, may your life become a candle that illuminates the miraculous in your world.

Blog Tzedakah:
The nine of you who left comments yesterday ensured that collectively, we donated $27 of my money to the Or Ami Matching Grant Fund, meaning that it was worth $54 of tzedakah. Our tzedakah ensures that the light of this special community – my congregation – shine brightly for those in need. Or Ami reaches out to people dealing with cancer and other illnesses, struggling to recover from drug and alcohol abuse, finding joy in the face of disabilities, living in foster families, seeking the light of spiritual wholeness and more. Through the generosity of two families, all donations to the Or Ami Matching Grant Fund will double in value. (Over three days of Chanukah, your comments have led to $96 in tzedakah). Tonight’s tzedakah will also go to the Matching Grant Fund. So if you leave a comment, my tzedakah donations are doubled. If you want, you can donate yourself. If you donate $18, it is worth $36. If you donate $100, it is worth $100. We have until December 31st to raise $61,000 to receive the full matching grants. We are over $43,568.00 toward that goal. If you want to donate, click here.

Chag Chanukah Samay-ach * Happy Chanukah.

#2: The Candle of Confusion………………. (Over How Much to Celebrate Chanukah)

Chanukah Candle #2. Shtayeem, dos, du, shay-nee, ʼiṯnān (Arabic), dua (Indonesian), ʻe-lua (Hawaiian, for the new President-elect), twai (Gothic), yerkou (Armenian), two. Happy Second Night of Chanukah.

Blog Tzedakah:
The five of you who left comments yesterday ensured that collectively, we donated $15 of my money to the Adopt a Child Abuse Caseworker (ACAC) program that helps foster children. Read more about that program here. If you want, donate yourself there.

Now leave a comment (below) today and I make a tzedakah donation to the Brandon Kaplan Special Needs program, which ensures that kids with special needs and their families receive the support they need within the Jewish community. Learn more about the program here and here. If you want, donate yourself there. Remember, though, for every comment made today, I’ll make a tzedakah donation to help special needs kids seeking a brighter future. So just make a comment below.

Chanukah Blog Thots:

My colleague Rabbi H. Rafael Goldstein, Spiritual Life Coach, wrote words that speaks to everyone who struggles to find direction celebrating Chanukah during the Christmas season. His conclusions are wonderful.

This time of year is one of major conflict for me. I don’t like having to defend Jewish tradition. I don’t like having to say that Hanukkah is not a big deal holiday and that we have to resist the temptation of our society’s to turn it into the Jewish American Christmas. This has always been my least favorite time of the year. I’m on the defensive no matter what I say. If I say it’s ok to celebrate the secular festival of American consumerism, I am putting down Christmas. If I say that it’s not very Jewish to celebrate the season with all the gifts and decorations of Christmas, I’m taking away all the fun of the party.

But I heard a story a while ago that I find really useful for framing my discomfort and the resolution of it. It took a couple of years to come to terms with the story. Here’s how it goes:

This old guy is about to die. He is very uncomfortable about his impending death, worried about what will happen to the Jewish people. He goes to his rabbi. He complains bitterly of his worry and his need to hang on to life until or unless he can see that the future of the Jewish people is secure. In his magical wisdom, the rabbi brings him to the eighth year of the second Christian millennium, to the last month, and here he sees the Jewish people making a huge deal out of Hanukkah, an admittedly minor, insignificant holiday. He sees children getting gifts every day, celebrating with great joy this very minor holiday. He hears incredibly insipid songs dedicated to spinning tops and potato pancakes, can’t figure out their meaning, but at least he recognizes the happiness and warmth of the songs. Finally, after taking in this spectacle, he says to the rabbi, “If this is how they celebrate such a little holiday like Hanukkah, I can rest assured. Think how they must be observing the important holidays, like Sukkot and Shavuot, or even Shabbat!”

Many other rabbis who tell this story go on to lament what they see as the irony of this story – that we have lost sight of our authentic Jewish holidays and have focused a lot on a minor holiday. I differ with them here, and I base that difference on the very story of Hanukkah. Hanukkah celebrates a military victory that has little or no spiritual or religious value. The historical accounts of Hanukkah do not include the story with the cruse of oil lasting for 8 days. That story was attached to it much later, in Talmudic times, around 400 years after the battle was won but the war was lost. In other words, our ancestors saw miracles in the story in which G!d was not at all Self-evident, attributing the military victory to G!d. They then further added G!d into the Hanukkah story, making it a spiritual event, with the device of the “miracle” of the oil.

G!d doesn’t appear in burning bushes, in splitting seas or earthquakes, thunder or lightning in the Hanukkah story. In fact, G!d isn’t even mentioned much. The Maccabees are praised for their bravery in winning the battle, and there is a sense of awe attached to the legend of the oil, but I don’t remember anyone saying it was G!d’s direct hand that kept the oil burning for the 8 days, just a very strange experience, a miracle. That G!d doesn’t appear in the story, doesn’t mean that G!d is not there, just that it’s our job to understand that G!d can be in the little things, in the unbelievable victory of the small over the mighty, in legends of rededication that we tell ourselves in order to sense the closeness of G!d in the less than spectacular. The rabbis turned to the legend of the oil when memory of the military victory was fading, when they were oppressed, lost, down and out, and needed to find G!d, to find miracles, to find holiness in what they had left.

That’s a Hanukkah lesson I am comfortable with: that G!d is present to us, in the miracles of our daily lives, if we see G!d in the smaller, non-spectacular stories of our own lives and our times. Recognizing when we need to turn to G!d, and finding the Holy One right there with us, as we struggle with our own battles and our own losses. Hanukkah is a way of rededicating ourselves to seeing the light of G!d where G!d’s Presence may be most needed, most welcome, most missed. Hanukkah is a reminder that G!d’s light in our own lives is the miracle, and it lasts way more than 8 days!

So, in thinking about it, I’m not all that disturbed by that which other rabbis might find lamentable – that in our society we have elevated a minor holiday into major proportions. It means we’re still a dynamic religion, still growing, developing and changing. It means that the Judaism we celebrate today continues to have creative energy. May we learn, as our ancestors did, to infuse that creative energy with G!d’s Holy Presence, making more obvious to us the miracles of G!d in our own lives each and every day. May the candles we light this Hanukkah remind us that the light from G!d will never diminish, and may we enjoy the glow way after Hanukkah is over.

Chanukah Resources: Concerned about the non-historical origin of the eight days of oil story? Read here. Need Chanukah resources: songsheets, candle blessing instructions, a copy of the story? Go here.

Happy Chanukah! (Check back tomorrow to discover which is the correct way to spell the holiday’s name: Chanukah, Hanukkah, Hanuka, Hanukka or…)

#1: A Candle of Hope

#1, one, uno, echad, harishon, un, first night, now
it all starts with one who hopes.

Welcome to the Rabbipaul’s 8 Blogs for 8 Nights of Chanukah, the first of eight awesome blogs to brighten your Chanukah celebration. [All the Chanukah celebration resources you want are here.]

Blog Tzedakah: Leave a comment (below) on this blog to shine the light. For every comment made today, I’ll make a tzedakah donation to help foster kids seeking a brighter future.

Tonight is dedicated to remembering what it is all about. Chanukah, I mean. Sure, you have the story here which you have to retell (Rule #1 of Chanukah: no storytelling, holiday observance not completed). But beyond the oil and Maccabees and the evil King Antiochus and the miracle, was an amazing sense of “yes we can”.

What was going through the mind of that unnamed young kohen (priest) when he realized he only had enough oil to last for one night? Did he think he should save it for a special occasion, perhaps the first Shabbat, hoarding it to celebrate that significant holy day?

No, thinking “yes we can,” he had faith and hope and poured that oil into the menorah, lighting it in the face of all claims it would burn out. Like Nachshon before him, the early Zionists after him, he sensed that im tirtzu ein zo aggadah – if you will it/hope it/if you work for it, then it is no dream.

What would our lives be like if we lived with that as a mantra? That we can move toward new realities even when others discourage us. Realists among us will scoff at the idea. And the flighty will dance about it. But the rest of us will need to work at it – holding onto hope in the face of darkness. We know, for example, that to turn our country’s economic situation around, we will all, at some point, need to believe in it again. Not perhaps at this very moment, but sometime, soon. We know with our children that we have to take educated risks, watching carefully, but allowing them to take risks, drive off with the car, stay out later, climb a bit higher. Even love is about calculated risk, opening your heart for another to love.

  • So if you are tired after a long day, light the candle.
  • If you are concerned about the future, light the candle.
  • If you are worried about your portfolio, light the candle.
  • If you can’t figure out what to do about your challenging children, light the light.
  • If you can’t decide what to do about your aging parents, light that light.
  • If your love has gone sour, shine that light of hope.
  • If you business is going south, shine a beacon of possibility.
  • If your love life is brightening your heart, light a light to shine for others.
  • If your social activism is changing the world for the better, shine that beacon into other’s darkness.
  • If you are lonely or alone, light that light into your darkness.
  • Remember, we are all lighting lights in these days ahead.

It only takes one candle to brighten the darkness. So start today.

This Chanukah, be that unnamed kohen/priest. Take a chance for a better future. Kindle a lamp to shine the way ahead. Be your own hero. Yes you can!

In case you forget how possible it is to really make the lights sing and dance for you, click here. Each Chanukah candle will sing to you its own tune. Click the shamash (central helper candle) and they sing forth together. (Seriously, try it… but then come back and leave a comment, so we can send more tzedakah to the foster kids. Or donate your own to our ACAC/Adopt a Child Abuse Caseworker program at www.orami.org/donate.

The lyrics to the song you will hear are about spiritual and physical victory over the darkness (in case you forgot):

Mi yimalel givurot Yisrael
Otan mi yimne
Hen b’khol dor yakum hagibor
Goel ha-am.

Shma! Ba-yamim ha’hem ba’zman ha’zeh.
Macabim moshia u’phodeh
U’vyameinu kol Am Yisrael
Yitakhed yakum lehigael.

Shma! Ba-yamim ha’hem ba’zman ha’zeh.
Macabim moshia u’phodeh
U’vyameinu kol Am Yisrael
Yitakhed yakum lehigael.

Who can retell the things that befell us?
Who can count them?
In every age, a hero or sage
Arose to our aid.

Hark! In days of yore in Israel’s ancient land
Brave Maccabeus led the faithful band
But now all Israel must as one arise
Redeem itself through deed and sacrifice.

Chanukah Resources Available

Need more Chanukah songsheets? Forget the Chanukah story but want to tell it?
Looking for a deeper adult experience of Chanukah learning?
Do the candles go in left to right or right to left?

Chanukah Resources to Light Up Your Celebration

All at


This beautiful flyer (which looks so much better in real life) was designed by Stephanie Goldsmith.