As we go to press this week, with a special edition celebrating the post-biblical, minor holiday of Hanuka, something is weighing on our hearts.
Our next issue will be dated Dec. 21; but that is when the world as we know it will come to an end, according to popular accounts of Mayan prophecy. There are some quibbles with this prediction (the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, I’m told, didn’t take leap years into account). In any case, Hanuka will get celebrated under the wire; and we will continue with our newspaper duties, as if Shabbat will be brought in on Friday, Dec. 21, in the regular fashion.
One more thing: Wikipedia has compiled a “List of dates predicted for apocalyptic events,” which stretches back 2,600 years. For example, in 1736, Cotton Mather made his “third and final prediction for the end of the world.” More recently, the feared Y2K computer bug had many (including some of my friends) predicting the downfall of technological civilization. But clever computer programmers patched up the code, and we emerged with nary a scratch.
On the Jewish tip, readers might want to prepare for 2240 C.E., which, according to Wikipedia, is when the Messiah comes, based on 6,000 years from the birth of Adam, which begins a thousand-year period of desolation. The stuff hits the fan in roughly 228 years, then, in year 3240, it will be purple light and a hum for a long, long time.
But in the meantime, we’ve got things to do and people to see. So let’s lively up ourselves for Hanuka, the Festival of Lights.
My favorite Hanuka song is “Al Hanisim (For the Miracles)” — Debbie Friedman, z”l, had a lovely, bouncy rendition of the song: “We thank You for the heroism, for the triumphs, and for the miraculous deliverance of our ancestors in other days, and in our time.”
“Al Hanisim,” a prayer that relates both to the Hanuka and Purim stories, is inserted into the 18th benediction of the Amida (“Modim”) and into the second benediction of Birkat Hamazon, the grace after meals (“Node L’cha”), according to the late Cantor Macy Nulman, writing on the Web site MyJewishLearning.com.
It is a prayer of thanksgiving, and Hanuka and every day are appropriate times for pausing to consider our blessings. And to strive to do better.
David Wolpe, the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, has written that Hanuka “is about something more important than dedication — rededication. In our lives, what we do once is hardly as important as what we do over and over again. The great rabbinic authority Joseph Caro asks, If Hanuka is about a miracle, and the oil, which was only supposed to last one day, lasted eight, then why don’t we celebrate Hanuka for seven days? After all, the first day of the oil burning was no miracle!”
The answer, according to Rabbi Wolpe, is that “the greatest miracle was the resolution to rededicate. After persecution and all the trials of life in those days, when the Temple was defiled and the people forbidden to practice Judaism, Jews still clung fast to their faith. On that first day beleaguered Jews still wanted to light the menora. God’s miracle came later. The miracle of the Jewish people, of faith, came first.”
The holiday, Wolpe concludes, is here for us to remember the “miraculous renewal of passion, of love, of devotion to God and the Jewish people. ‘Hanuka’ is rededication. The drive to rededicate that which has fallen into disuse is profoundly important. Can we see sparks of holiness beneath the dust of a neglected prayer book? Does our Hanuka menora glow, however dim and distant the light? Rededication — that is the miracle. The world is rife with worthy causes we have taken up with enthusiasm and then abandoned. Rededicate yourself to repairing God’s anguished world. If we manage that, the oil will burn for countless nights to come.”
The world likely will not end in two weeks. At the same time, tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us. As the inheritors of the great Jewish prophetic tradition, we are each called upon to pursue justice and increase the peace.
In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), Rabbi Tarfon instructs us: “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.”
The editors and staff wish all of our readers a very Happy Hanuka!
— Mordecai Specktor / email@example.com
(American Jewish World, 12.7.12)