Hanukkah & Climate: Day One, The Torah for Our Energy Crisis

#Hanukkah8Days4Climate -- Day 1, Torah Study

A Prefatory Note by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 

director of The Shalom Center and 

Followed by a Torah Resource Page woven by 

Rabbinical Student (RRC) Faryn Borella,

The Ira Silverman Memorial Intern of The Shalom Center 


Last week we sent you a proposed trajectory for a climate-concerned celebration of Hanukkah, keyed to the phases of the Moon. (See the story on the Home Page of our website, at <>. We suggested beginning the first night (Sunday evening, December 22) with a communal gathering to light the first candle and study Torah that deals with the meanings of Hanukkah in relation to Earth, especially energy conservation.

We begin below 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.

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[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.  AW]


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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 messenger 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 with an important teaching about the Menorah and the two olve trees.]

Justice, Shabbat, & the Poor Peoples Campaign

Dear friends,

This comng Shabbat in Washington DC,  the Poor Peoples Campaign will challenge the racism, bigotry, militarism, greed, and economic injustice that have been turned into official policy by the present government of the United States. These atrocious policies are capped by the cruelty of tearing families apart, traumatizing both children and parents, bringing shame and dishonor on the American people.

The Shalom Center,  along with other Jewish organizations, decded that holding a Shabbat morning service at the scene would be the best way of both affirming the Holiness of Shabbat and affirming the Holiness of eco-social justice. The Shalom Center is a National Partner of the Poor People's Camoaign and will have a role in the Shabbat morning service that will be held under the auspices of the Religious Action  Center of Reform Judaism. We hope to see many of you there.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace --  Arthur


We have been working for months in support of the Poor Peoples Campaign, investing a great deal of effort, time, and money in helping make it successful. We need your help to do this work. Please contribute by clicking on the maroon "Support" banner just below.

Beyond Destructive Gas/Oil Pipelines, to Birthing a Joyful Community

Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) is a national network of activists who are opposing gas/oil pipelines that are infrastructure for fracked fossil fuels, the Canadian tar sands oil, etc. etc.

BXE will be connecting with the Poor Peoples Campaign in its own climactic action on May 23-25, as the Poor Peoples Campaign ends its 40 days of local action in state capitals with a massive outpouring in Washington, DC.  I think many members and friends of The Shalom Center may find it valuable to connect with BXE’s work across the country.

Before I share BXE’s plans, let me share one note about the spiritual meaning of the 40-day action. “Why 40 days?” I asked Rev. Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor Peoples Campaign.

“Because of the 40 days of Moses on Sinai and Jesus in the Wilderness, 40 years of the whole people in the Wilderness,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, “but why is 40 so important to the Bible?”  “Well?” he said.

“I was taught it is because 40 weeks is the real duration of human pregnancy. All those 40s are a pregnant time toward birthing. From that perspective, it makes perfect sense to start on Mothers Day, and to think of the “end” of the Poor Peoples Campaign not as the end but as the start of a new and growing child—the Beloved Community just beginning.””

He smiled. “Always good to do some Bible learning!”

The ancient Rabbis said that quoting one’s teacher brings redemption to the world. May it be so! My teacher on this point was Rabbi Jeff Roth, co-founder of Elat Chayyim,  founder/ director of The Awakened Heart Project for Contemplative Judaism, and a member of the Board of The Shalom Center.

Back to BXE: It publishes a calendar of pipeline protests s being planned, in the works or on-going. They update the calendar at least every two weeks. It is available . It is a calendar primarily for actions aimed at stopping the building of any new fossil fuel infrastructure. Submissions for this listing should be sent to and should include location, date(s), description (short) and contact info.

Since The Shalom Center ‘s membership and readership are distributed across the country, I thought many of you might want to know about and join in the activism that BXE reports. If you do, and want resources from us to enrich your participation, please let us know.  Write us at <>

BXE has also challenged the Federal Energy Resource Commission (FERC) , which has been a rubber stamp for fossil-fuel company applications for permits to build these pipelines that despoil local communities and scorch all Earth.  Their challenges and those of local communities have begun to make cracks in the automatic approvals by FERC.. 

On June 23-25 BXE and The Shalom Center will be joining with the Poor Peoples Campaign to bring nonviolent direct action to bear on FERC in Washington DC. The Shalom Center has become a co-sponsor of the 40-day Poor Peoples Campaign, beginning on May 13 right after Mothers Day  and “ending” (not really) on June 23,  at the summer solstice, with a massive action in Washington, DC.

We welcome you, our members and readers, to connect with the local actions and the DC action. For the calendar, click here.

When you do, please send us reports, photos, and videos of the actions, for us to share with and inspire others.

I am including the present/ future list below, to give you a sense of the breadth in time and space of pipeline activism.

Let’s build the movement! 

3 Million Americans: No water, food, electricity. [Puerto Rico: Who Cares?]

The third Hyper-Hurricane in a row left the American island of Puerto Rico desolate. There have been no flotillas of the US Navy carrying water, food, solar collectors.  No fleets of the US Air Force carrying anything. No President of the United States flying over, expressing shock at the devastation.  No emergency Congregational appropriations of billions of dollars for recovery. No large-hearted redirections of Caribbean cruise ships  with food and water aboard, to meet the life-or-death needs of desperate Puerto-Rican Americans instead of the luxurious wants of deep-pocketed Anglos.

Is there something intrinsically inferior, dislikable,  about Puerto Rican-Americans?

Of course. Their skin color is a few shades darker than that of Scotch-Irish Americans, Norwegian-Americans, Irish-Americans, most Jewish-Americans. And they talk Spanish.

They have no representatives in Congress, and they don’t vote for President.  Another proof of their inferiority.

So when their “Commonwealth”  was hard hit by the Wall-Street caused depression of 2008, they ended up getting a bail-out for the banks that had lent them money, but not for the people. Their infrastructure (like electric power lines) began to rot, even worse than the rotting infrastructures of the “states” in the “United States.”

When in 2008 the “United States” elected a Congress that could never take serious steps to heal our planet from global scorching and the climate crisis, and then in 2016 a President and Congress who have taken vigorous steps to worsen global scorching and the climate crisis, these hapless Puerto-Rican Americans had no voice in preventing Hyper-Hurricanes that could destroy them.

And once the destruction happened, the week when help was most urgently needed was also the week when on-shore American progressives were bending every effort to prevent passage of Trumpcare Disgusting Version 3, or maybe Disgusting Version 5.

I’m  not saying that was a mistake. But let’s acknowledge, it had its shadow side. And now, with that victory won, maybe those brownish Spanish-speaking  islander Americans could get our attention.

The attention of anti-racist activists.

The attention of climate-crisis activists.

The attention of anti-Wall Street activists.

The attention of pro-democracy, anti-fascism activists.

What kind of attention might make a difference?

Phone calls, letters, and especially bodies flooding Congressional offices. (The only kind of flood that gives life, not death.)

“Congressperson Y, Where are the Air Force and the Navy? Getting ready to destroy 25 million North Koreans?  That can wait a couple of weeks. Let’s get food and water and medicine and electricity to these Americans first, how about it?”

 “Here, Senator Q: Cans of tuna and veggies and lots of bread my neighborhood gathered. Will you have your Committee on [Whatever]  charter a plane to parachute them down to Puerto-Rican Americans? I’m not leaving till you promise.”

“Mr. Vice-President, I know you love the Bible.  Just this past Saturday I sat in synagogue and heard this troublemaker that we call  the Prophet Isaiah demand we observe the Solemn Fast by feeding the hungry. We’re still reading it 2500 years later! Must be something to it. So --  how about feeding  those Puerto Ricans? If this guy Isaiah thought it was important to feed folks who talked Hebrew, I guess Spanish is OK too.”

“Mr. Secretary of State, you know what your old buddies at Exxon knew about burning oil: It is destroying our Mother Earth, and now these folks in Puerto Rico are in real trouble from a hyper-hurricane you sponsored. I wouldn’t want to accuse you of willful manslaughter, but could you get to work to prevent the next dozen unnatural disasters?”

 Nu already?  What about it? 

Breaking News: M L King condemns the Trump federal budget

First, a suggested action in the Spirit of Dr. King; then an explanation of why.

 Action:  On April 15, we lug sacks of pennies to the local Federal building to pay part of the Federal tax we owe -- pennies that are broken pieces of the Golden Calf that Trump’s proposed Death Budget would force us to worship.

 Why: Just as a household budget puts into action the real moral and ethical outlook of the family --  “How much for a new car? How much for solar collectors on the roof? How much for rent? For medicine? For a fancier TV? How much for a college education? How much for a charity that feeds the poor? How much to support a Congressional election campaign?” –

 Just so, the US Federal budget carries out the real moral and ethical choices of the American people, or at least of the US government.

The Trump Administration has released its proposed Federal budget.

There are major increases in money for the military, which already spends more money than the next 14 national military systems all added together.

Enormous cuts for all climate-healing work and for protection of pure water,

T'ruah 2014 singing

As Reb Arthur Waskow received the first Lifetime Achievement Award offered by T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, he invited those present in New York on Mar 25, 2014 to join him in this song. It's a fragment of Psalm 150, "Hallelu-YAH" -- "Let us praise the Breath of Life." The psalm recites


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