Hanukkah & Climate, Day 1: Torah Study on Energy & Earth

#Hanukkah8Days4Climate -- Day 1, Torah Study

A Prefatory Note by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 

director of The Shalom Center and 

Member, Visioning Team, Earth-Based Judaism track 

Of the ALEPH Ordination Program

Followed by a Torah Resource Page woven by 

Rabbinical Student (RRC) Faryn Borella,

The Ira Silverman Memorial Intern of The Shalom Center 

[In the Shalom Report we have suggested a Hanukkah Trajectory related to the climate crisis for the eight days of the festival. We suggest beginning on the first night (Sunday evening, December 22) with communal gatherings to light the first candle, share Hanukkah foods, and share participatory study of Torah passages that bear on the meanings of Hanukkah – especially its connection with Earth and with conservation of energy.

[Our bare-bones chart suggesting observances connected with the rhythms of the Moon for Days 2 through 8 appears in an article on the Home Page of our website at https://theshalomcenter.org/hanukkah8days4climate   In the next few weeks we will be sending Shalom Reports with more detailed suggestions for Days 2 through 8. --  AW] 

We begin below with a prefatory note that briefly outlines the history and relationship of some major Hanukkah-related texts, followed by the texts themselves.

We begin with the Talmud, which tells us that Hanukkah is a holiday created to commemorate the miracle of conservation of energy when one day’s oil to relight the sacred light-bearing Menorah, necessary in order to rededicate the Temple after its time under occupation by the imperial army of Hellenistic Syria, was enough to keep the Menorah lit for eight days.

In historical factuality, the Book of Maccabees (which was written much closer to the events) says the reason was to celebrate the eight days of Sukkot, which they had not been able to celebrate while the Hellenistic army had control of the Temple.  In all anthropological likelihood, the eight-day celebration of light when the Moon and Sun are darkest goes back even further into the religious history of communities in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Many modern scholars believe that the ancient Rabbis deliberately directed future attention away from the Maccabees because they did not want to encourage violent uprisings against imperial powers. For in their consciousness, the Maccabee-like revolt of Bar Kochba in 135 CE ended in utter disaster for the Jewish people, as Rome smashed the Jewish population of the Land of Israel. 

The ancient Rabbis decided to use words from the Prophet Zechariah as the Haftarah (prophetic passage) to be read in synagogues on the Shabbat during Hanukkah. Like the legend of the eight-day bottle of one-day oil, it directed attention away from the Maccabeean guerrilla-band revolt, cresting with “Not by might and not by power…”

So after the Hanukkah-defining passage from the Talmud, we focus on Zechariah’s prophetic vision. He wrote or proclaimed it after the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonian Empire, and is envisioning a new Temple with some important differences from the one that had been destroyed  -- especially a radical vision of olive trees next to the Menorah.

Zechariah’s focus on the Temple Menorah reinforces the Rabbis’ focus on its connection with the reason for Hanukkah. We include Rashi’s interpretation of the strangest part of Zechariah’s ecstatic vision.  Then – to deepen our understanding of the Menorah that has become so central -- we go back to the Torah’s earliest definition of the Menorah in the portable Shrine in the Wilderness, and therefore ultimately in the Temple in Jerusalem.

A special note on translating “YHWH.”  Like the great Bible translator Everett Fox, rather than substituting the false translation as “LORD” I transliterate the Name.  I also “translate” it as “Breath of Life, Interbreathing Spirit of the world” because I think “pronouncing” it with no vowels brings forth the sound of a breath  -- ruach. And I think in our era that is a far better, more truthful metaphor for God than “King, Lord.” It betokens an ecological rather than hierarchical understanding of the world.

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Resources for Torah Study, 

1st night or day of Hanukkah

Woven by Faryn Borella

Shabbat 21b, Talmud Bavli

מאי חנוכה דתנו רבנן בכה בכסליו יומי דחנוכה תמניא אינון דלא למספד בהון ודלא להתענות בהון שכשנכנסו יוונים להיכל טמאו כל השמנים שבהיכל וכשגברה מלכות בית חשמונאי ונצחום בדקו ולא מצאו אלא פך אחד של שמן שהיה מונח בחותמו של כהן גדול ולא היה בו אלא להדליק יום אחד נעשה בו נס והדליקו ממנו שמונה ימים לשנה אחרת קבעום ועשאום ימים טובים בהלל והודאה

The Gemara asks: What is Hanukkah, and why are lights kindled on Hanukkah? The Gemara answers: The Sages taught in Megillat Taanit: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the days of Hanukkah are eight. One may not eulogize on them and one may not fast on them. What is the reason? When the Greeks  [Syrian Hellenistic imperial army] entered the Sanctuary they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary by touching them. And when the Hasmonean monarchy overcame them and emerged victorious over them, they searched and found only one jar of oil that was placed with the seal of the High Priest, undisturbed by the Greeks. And there was sufficient oil there to light the Light-bearing Menorah for only one day. A miracle occurred and they lit the Light-bearing Menorah from it eight days. The next year the Sages instituted those days and made them holidays with recitation of hallel and special thanksgiving in prayer and blessings.

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 67b

אמר רב זוטרא האי מאן דמיכסי שרגא דמשחא ומגלי נפטא קעבר משום בל תשחית

Rav Zutra said: He who covers an oil lamp or who uncovers a kerosene lamp for no purpose violates the prohibition: Do not destroy, since by doing so the fuel burns more quickly.

Zechariah 4:1-14 (an excerpt from the Haftarah read on the Shabbat of Hanukkah)

וַיָּ֕שָׁב הַמַּלְאָ֖ךְ הַדֹּבֵ֣ר בִּ֑י וַיְעִירֵ֕נִי כְּאִ֖ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־יֵע֥וֹר מִשְּׁנָתֽוֹ׃

The [angelic] messenger who talked with me came back and woke me as someone is wakened from sleep.

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלַ֔י מָ֥ה אַתָּ֖ה רֹאֶ֑ה ויאמר [וָאֹמַ֡ר] רָאִ֣יתִי ׀ וְהִנֵּ֣ה מְנוֹרַת֩ זָהָ֨ב כֻּלָּ֜הּ וְגֻלָּ֣הּ עַל־רֹאשָׁ֗הּ וְשִׁבְעָ֤ה נֵרֹתֶ֙יהָ֙ עָלֶ֔יהָ שִׁבְעָ֤ה וְשִׁבְעָה֙ מֽוּצָק֔וֹת לַנֵּר֖וֹת אֲשֶׁ֥ר עַל־רֹאשָֽׁהּ׃

He said to me, “What do you see?” And I answered, “I see a light-bearing Menorah all of gold, with a bowl above it. The lamps on it are seven in number, and the lamps above it have seven pipes;

וּשְׁנַ֥יִם זֵיתִ֖ים עָלֶ֑יהָ אֶחָד֙ מִימִ֣ין הַגֻּלָּ֔ה וְאֶחָ֖ד עַל־שְׂמֹאלָֽהּ׃

and by it are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and one on its left.”

וָאַ֙עַן֙ וָֽאֹמַ֔ר אֶל־הַמַּלְאָ֛ךְ הַדֹּבֵ֥ר בִּ֖י לֵאמֹ֑ר מָה־אֵ֖לֶּה אֲדֹנִֽי׃

I, in turn, asked the messenger who talked with me, “What do those things mean, my lord?”

וַ֠יַּעַן הַמַּלְאָ֞ךְ הַדֹּבֵ֥ר בִּי֙ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלַ֔י הֲל֥וֹא יָדַ֖עְתָּ מָה־הֵ֣מָּה אֵ֑לֶּה וָאֹמַ֖ר לֹ֥א אֲדֹנִֽי׃

“Do you not know what those things mean?” asked the messingerr who talked with me; and I said, “No, my lord.”

וַיַּ֜עַן וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֵלַי֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר זֶ֚ה דְּבַר־יְהוָ֔ה אֶל־זְרֻבָּבֶ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר לֹ֤א בְחַ֙יִל֙ וְלֹ֣א בְכֹ֔חַ כִּ֣י אִם־בְּרוּחִ֔י אָמַ֖ר יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת׃

Then he explained to me as follows: “This is the word of YHWH to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by My breath/wind/spirit—said the Infinite YHWH/ Breath of Life.

[Haftarah officially ends here but Zechariah continues, especially with a most remarkable teaching about the two trees next to the Menorah. Click to the rest of the text.]


מִֽי־אַתָּ֧ה הַֽר־הַגָּד֛וֹל לִפְנֵ֥י זְרֻבָּבֶ֖ל לְמִישֹׁ֑ר וְהוֹצִיא֙ אֶת־הָאֶ֣בֶן הָרֹאשָׁ֔ה תְּשֻׁא֕וֹת חֵ֥ן חֵ֖ן לָֽהּ׃ (פ)

Whoever you are, O great mountain in the path of Zerubbabel, turn into level ground! For he shall produce that excellent stone; it shall be greeted with shouts of ‘Grace! Grace!’”

וַיְהִ֥י דְבַר־יְהוָ֖ה אֵלַ֥י לֵאמֹֽר׃

And the word of YHWH/Breath of Life came to me:

יְדֵ֣י זְרֻבָּבֶ֗ל יִסְּד֛וּ הַבַּ֥יִת הַזֶּ֖ה וְיָדָ֣יו תְּבַצַּ֑עְנָה וְיָ֣דַעְתָּ֔ כִּֽי־יְהוָ֥ה צְבָא֖וֹת שְׁלָחַ֥נִי אֲלֵיכֶֽם׃

“Zerubbabel’s hands have founded this House and Zerubbabel’s hands shall complete it. Then you shall know that it was the Infinite YHWH/ Breath of Life who sent me to you.

כִּ֣י מִ֣י בַז֮ לְי֣וֹם קְטַנּוֹת֒ וְשָׂמְח֗וּ וְרָא֞וּ אֶת־הָאֶ֧בֶן הַבְּדִ֛יל בְּיַ֥ד זְרֻבָּבֶ֖ל שִׁבְעָה־אֵ֑לֶּה עֵינֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה הֵ֥מָּה מְשׁוֹטְטִ֖ים בְּכָל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Does anyone scorn a day of small beginnings? When they see the distinctive stone in the hand of Zerubbabel, they shall rejoice. “Those seven are the eyes of the Infinite YHWH / Breath of Life , ranging over the whole earth.”

וָאַ֖עַן וָאֹמַ֣ר אֵלָ֑יו מַה־שְּׁנֵ֤י הַזֵּיתִים֙ הָאֵ֔לֶה עַל־יְמִ֥ין הַמְּנוֹרָ֖ה וְעַל־שְׂמֹאולָֽהּ׃

“And what,” I asked him, “are those two olive trees, one on the right and one on the left of the light-bearing Menorah?”

וָאַ֣עַן שֵׁנִ֔ית וָאֹמַ֖ר אֵלָ֑יו מַה־שְׁתֵּ֞י שִׁבֲּלֵ֣י הַזֵּיתִ֗ים אֲשֶׁר֙ בְּיַ֗ד שְׁנֵי֙ צַנְתְּר֣וֹת הַזָּהָ֔ב הַֽמְרִיקִ֥ים מֵעֲלֵיהֶ֖ם הַזָּהָֽב׃

And I further asked him, “What are the two tops of the olive trees that feed their gold through those two golden tubes?”

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֵלַי֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר הֲל֥וֹא יָדַ֖עְתָּ מָה־אֵ֑לֶּה וָאֹמַ֖ר לֹ֥א אֲדֹנִֽי׃

He asked me, “Don’t you know what they are?” And I replied, “No, my lord.”

וַיֹּ֕אמֶר אֵ֖לֶּה שְׁנֵ֣י בְנֵֽי־הַיִּצְהָ֑ר הָעֹמְדִ֖ים עַל־אֲד֥וֹן כָּל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Then he explained, “They are the two offspring of Yitzhar (shining/pure oil) who attend the Lord of all the Earth.”

Rashi’s commentary on Zechariah 4:12

המריקים מעליהם. את השמן הזה הצלול וטוב להארי כזהב כמו (איוב ל״ז:כ״ב) מצפון זהב יאתה:“This ‘gold’ is the clear oil, like the gold referred to in the Book  of Job -- “From the hidden place the golden rays emerge; The splendor of God is awesome.” (Job 37:23).

Rashi’s commentary on Zechariah 4:14

שני בני היצהר. קרן כהונה ומלכות הנמשחים בשמן “These are two offspring of Shining Oil: The flow of priesthood through the majesty of anointing with oil.” 

Rashi concludes that the flowing “gold” from the olive trees into the gold Menorah is the flow of olive oil itself directly into the Menorah, without human intervention, as God’s anointment of the Menorah into priesthood. 

 Exodus 25:31-36

“Make a lampstand [Light-bearing Menorah] of pure gold. Hammer out its base and shaft, and make its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them. 32Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand -- three on one side and three on the other. 33Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. 34And on the lampstand there are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. 35One bud shall be under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair-six branches in all. 36The buds and branches shall all be of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold.” 

å[*Note the Torah’s careful description of the Menorah as a tree with branches, buds, and flowers.—AW] 

 

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