#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 <https://theshalomcenter.org/hanukkah8days4climate>. 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]
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 Ta’anit: 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.]