A Taste of Shabbat for when we are physically separated:
I began writing to address the need to limit gatherings for ‘non-essential’ events when I heard about the fire in the social hall. It struck me that there are no non-essential gatherings for us. Every time we gather, we generate a spirit, a vibrancy and a relevance that simply cannot be duplicated across the digital void. A series of zeros and ones cannot substitute for a series of handshakes and hugs. Yet, we must face reality and recognize that our community contains a diverse population including elders and members of the vulnerable population, including people on medication, on ventilators and pre and post surgical candidates, among others.
Governor Jared Polis wrote in his declared Colorado state of emergency that recognizing “our role in helping lead the effort to help limit the potential spread of this virus locally… (means) those over 60 and those with chronic health issues are urged to avoid public gatherings.” However, those may be the people who are in the greatest need of socialization.
Most of us, like most of the cognizant world, are under stress from both an economic meltdown and the coronavirus proliferation. Our Temple community is handling additional stress from a confluence of attacks against our property directly and against our beliefs and identity as a result of those attacks.
We each approach this time and situation from our own perspective and with our separate resources. As I change the channels, I hear quite diverse information being espoused both within the United States and especially from abroad, about what is happening and how to approach it. We cannot control what is happening, except at an individual level, but we can control how we react to it. It is appropriate to be fearful, but not of each other. Now is the time to use our well honed skills of sharing with and listening to one another without condemnation or becoming offended.
So while we are being asked to build physical boundaries between us, 3 feet is the current recommendation, we need to continue to build bridges across the community, reaching out by phone or electronically to stay in touch and to check in, particularly with those in our vulnerable population. As a hugger, this feels like an immense loss, but losing members of our community would be a much bigger one. I will give up hugging to limit the number of names added to the Mi Sheberach list.
I don't know of a community that is more aware of or responsive to one another's needs. Other people are reaching out to assist us and we will continue to function even while our building is under repair. Meanwhile, we can be grateful that once again, no one was injured and the sanctuary was spared.
I appreciate all the work done behind the scenes by our board to keep Temple Emanuel up, running and serving the Jewish community of Pueblo and the surrounding area. I am thankful for the participation and support of all our members as well as our non-member support system and community.
May God grant us peace and understanding. May our world and the inhabitants upon it be blessed with rafuah shalaymah, a complete and speedy healing. May your Shabbat be filled with comfort and light.
Rabbi Birdie Becker
SHABBAT DROSH 11.8.19 by Rabbi Birdie Becker (offered to those in attendance at Temple Emanuel – Pueblo)
One year ago, we gathered here in solidarity for a community 1437 miles away. They were not as lucky as we. This time, no one was injured and nothing damaged. Career professionals, the FBI and Law enforcement were on top of the situation and we are abundantly grateful. This was the 13th thwarted event against the Jewish community since Etz Chayim, the Tree of Life massacre just a little more than one year ago. We know we are blessed.
Thirteen in Judaism is an auspicious number. How many times last month during the holiday season did we recite the 13 attribute of God? A merciful, compassionate, gracious, forgiving God. Adonai abundant in kindness and truth. We say that God is One, Echad. The gematria, the numerical value of the Hebrew letters for Echad is 13, the age at which we are blessed to become part of the adult community, to observe commandments and witness that Oneness. This week, with support and love pouring in from around the world, ignoring borders, barriers and divisiveness of any kind, we have witnessed the oneness of God and the oneness of God in humanity.
We pray that other communities are so blessed such that the counting continues only for impeded events and never again to count bodies for Kaddish.
This past week, from the Pearl St. Mall in Boulder to the door of our Temple, Coloradans confronted violence, hate and Holocaust denial. Repulsed by abhorrent behavior, people and communities have reached out to connect and support us, including friends as far away as Israel and Canada; and with Veteran’s Day in mind, from sea to shining sea.
This 119 year old congregation is warm, welcoming and open, not through naivete, but through carrying out the ethical, spiritual and religious tenants of our faith. We have, and will continue, to open our hearts to all who join us in study, prayer and celebration. It is therefore surprising, for some infuriating, and for others frightening, when a stranger raises the visage of the age old hatred of anti-Semitism. But our people have seen this ugliness before and met it panim el panim, face to face. We may be targets but we are not victims.
Hate is based in fear and fear is a fragile attribute. It reeks of weakness, broadcasting that it can only exist if it goes unchallenged. Judaism glorifies challenges of both soul and mind. Hate is based in ignorance where ideas cannot reach beyond the boundaries of the known. Judaism relishes the questions as much as much as the answers, maybe more so, for it takes heart and mind to where the body cannot travel. Hate quivers in isolation, desperate for acceptance from anyone, anywhere. Judaism delights in community but also elevates each individual as betzelem Elohim, in the image of God. Hate requires constant fuel. Judaism has learned to enhance the rests between the notes.
Thus we come together for this Shabbat. Recognizing that it has not been a usual passage of days. Our perceptions have been altered as this deprivation came to our state in a double dose and knocked directly on our door. So we welcome everyone here in body and in spirit, and those who are here only in spirit, and thank you for your presence as we welcome Shabbat menucha, Sabbath release, Shabbat rest.
Year two begins. I awake with tears in my eyes. You still aren’t at my side. Of course, I’ve learned over the year to sleep across the bed so there isn’t a lot of room left. It’s surprising how someone five foot one can take up a lot of space with a few pillows strategically placed and a body that doesn’t conform to head and foot edges of the bed.
I spent yesterday being occupied at one thing and another and waited for the year to end watching the Chanukah candles melt down on our Chanukiah. They burned perfectly evenly this night except the Shamash, the helper, that burned quickly down to match the height of the other four and then finished burning with them. Are you still sending messages or am I looking too hard; wanting too much for you to still be here, to wake up and find out this has been a dream, a mistake?
I’m fine. I’m fine. And then, I’m not. And then, I am again. One foot in front of the other: in house shoes, boots, tennis shoes or barefoot. One foot in front of the other, life goes on.
I hope the soul goes on and you know how much you are missed and loved every day. Your memory, the memory of you, my dear Jeff, is a blessing.
I have been a trustee of CO Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice since 2010. I have served as their treasurer since 2011.
I begin with a story. The Master Key by Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin. A Chasidic tale.
One year, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov said to Rabbi Ze’ev Kitzes, one of his senior disciples: “You will blow the shofar for us this Rosh Hashanah. I want you to study all the kavanot (Kabbalistic meditations) that pertain to the shofar, so that you should meditate upon them when you do the blowing.”
Rabbi Ze’ev applied himself to the task with joy and trepidation: joy over the great privilege that had been accorded him, and trepidation over the immensity of the responsibility. He studied the Kabbalistic writings that discuss the multifaceted significance of the shofar and what its sounds achieve on the various levels of reality and in the various chambers of the soul. He also prepared a sheet of paper on which he noted the main points of each kavanah, so that he could refer to them when he blew the shofar.
Finally, the great moment arrived. It was the morning of Rosh Hashanah, and Rabbi Ze’ev stood on the reading platform in the center of the Baal Shem Tov’s synagogue amidst the Torah scrolls, surrounded by a sea of tallit-draped bodies. At his table in the southeast corner of the room stood his master, the Baal Shem Tov, his face aflame. An awed silence filled the room in anticipation of the climax of the day—the piercing blasts and sobs of the shofar.
Rabbi Ze’ev reached into his pocket, and his heart froze: the paper had disappeared! He distinctly remembered placing it there that morning, but now it was gone. Furiously, he searched his memory for what he had learned, but his distress over the lost notes seemed to have incapacitated his brain: his mind was a total blank. Tears of frustration filled his eyes. He had disappointed his master, who had entrusted him with this most sacred task. Now he must blow the shofar like a simple horn, without any kavanot. With a despairing heart, Rabbi Ze’ev blew the litany of sounds required by law and, avoiding his master’s eye, resumed his place.
At the conclusion of the day’s prayers, the Baal Shem Tov made his way to the corner where Rabbi Ze’ev sat sobbing under his tallit. “Gut Yom Tov, Reb Ze’ev!” he called. “That was a most extraordinary shofar-blowing we heard today!”
“But Rebbe . . . I . . .”
“In the king’s palace,” said the Baal Shem Tov, “there are many gates and doors, leading to many halls and chambers. The palace-keepers have great rings holding many keys, each of which opens a different door. But there is one key that fits all the locks, a master key that opens all the doors.
“The kavanot are keys, each unlocking another door in our souls, each accessing another chamber in the supernal worlds. But there is one key that unlocks all doors, that opens up for us the innermost chambers of the divine palace. That master key is a broken heart.”
I struggled this year to prepare for the holidays. I tried to write and nothing made sense. I tried to study and could not concentrate. As the days of Elul passed, I knew I had to do something. One morning I sat down and let the tears flow. Only after writing what I am going to share with you now, was I able to return the over the following day to write the more joyous sermons you heard on Rosh Hashanah and that you will hear tomorrow, but I want to share the process with you.
A Letter to God from a Healing Broken Heart by Rabbi Birdie Becker 8.2018
It’s been a year since last I stood before the open book.
Into your hands, I cast my lot, but found there no safe nook.
Instead it opened every door that ever I had closed
And made me open wide the gates to things I never chose.
What is a human being if not a working piece of art?
What is a soul if not the depth of heaven when it parts?
To look inside the melding body only leads astray
the final outcome we each reach when it’s the close of day.
I thought I had it figured out, I thought if I believed
Then fate would deal a hand of kindness on all that I perceived.
I thought that prayers and pledges, pleading, promises and tears
would safely guard the future from the ‘lions, tigers and bears’.
Love came, and I did not grasp it hard enough, to gather it forever.
It passed away and with it went the best of my endeavor.
How can you ask of me to stand again before your open book?
How can you dare to say to me that life still brightly looks
ahead to beauty, to wonder, to fulfillment, to all the world can hold?
You surely should have warned me of the losses to unfold.
You did! You say.
Well, I reject the notion that you did.
My heart was breaking every day, and I believe you hid.
Who by fire? Who by water? Who by agony?
Who from age? Who alone? Who with family?
Why this day? Why this hour? Why that one and not this?
Who can justify the meaning of the latest kiss
of death that moves the soul beyond this land to its next hallowed sphere?
I don’t care what I am told, I want my loved one here.
To have and hold and share another day another year…
This grief I cannot bear.
Yet.. I will.
I will continue for God, that is the way
That You tell us You are with us, each and every day.
In our thoughts and in our hearts and even in our tears.
You let me rail against the dark, against the black, against the coming years
Of memories that will grow deep and stories to be told
Of feelings bearable someday and even humor trolled.
Who am I to question You?
Not Job or Abraham.
Not Hillel, not Sarah nor even 'Sam I am'.
Yet question You is what we do, each and every day.
Because it lets us know that You are never going away.
You’re here, right here, by my side.
And, I, as mad as I may be,
I know that You will never go too far away from me.
Like all good friends, You’re there to let me give a primal scream.
And when I’m at my lowest, it’s upon You I can lean.
I may not always understand, it’s not for me to agree.
The sun has once again revolved,
A year has passed by Your decree.
Who remembered? Who forgotten? By woman or by man?
Each held in love, caressed by grace in Adonai’s grand plan.
From off the earth each one has touched Shechinah’s wings and flown.
Belonging now to eternity,
Divine and Thine alone.
Life is a journey, my friends. What I want to impart to you most is that all relationships require work but you need never journey alone.
May your journeys this year be sweet and fulfilling.
For those who did not know him:
JEFFREY M. BECKER M.D.
Dr. Jeffrey M. Becker passed away Dec. 5, 2017. Funeral services occurred Dec. 8th at Mt. Nebo. Becker met his wife, Rabbi/Cantor 'Birdie' (Roberta Koslov), at a MOVFTY gathering in 1968. They reunited in 1972 in Columbia, MO where both were studying at the University of Missouri. They married in 1976 and Jacob and Rachel were born while they lived in Illinois.
A Board Certified dermatologist and Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology as well as the Society for Investigative Dermatology, Becker practiced medicine in Champaign/Urbana, IL for four years where he also served as a clinical instructor for the University of Illinois Medical School. He arrived in Denver in 1984, where he served the community until 2007 when he was recruited to build a Dermatology department in Albuquerque at the largest multi-specialty group in the state.
No matter where he practiced, his colleagues described him as always having a sparkle in his eye and a kind word to say, and more often than not a quick joke that took everyone by surprise. He felt a deep responsibility to his patients and always strived to provide excellent care. He retired last December to return to Denver and the other driving force in his life, his family.
A devoted father, he earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, which he attended several times a week for years with Jacob and Rachel. For many years he enjoyed the outdoor life in Denver by biking the majority of the Highline Canal, switching to hiking the Sandias for his time in Albuquerque. An avid camera enthusiast, he videoed his children and his wife in numerous years of theater performances.
Jeff had a generous heart, a brilliant mind, a pervasive sense of humor, and a courageous soul. He will long be remembered by friends, family, and the many patients whose lives he has touched. He died Tuesday, December 5th, 2017. He is survived by his wife and children. May the angels carry him. Baruch Dayan Emet. He is already missed.
Dr. Becker was the husband of Rabbi "Birdie" Becker; father of Jacob Becker & Rachel Becker; brother of Linda (Tom) Langsdorf & Foster Becker; brother-in-law of Marilyn (Ron z"l) Humiston, Marcia (Stephen Smay) Koslov & Steve (Mary Fulton) Koslov. Contributions to the medical or Jewish charity of choice is suggested.
Published in Denver Post on Dec. 31, 2017
We will soon all gather to begin the holiday season. Due to the divisiveness within which we are living, it seems somewhat more difficult to make teshuvah, the turning required to wipe away the sins of our past year. It seems so much easier to be able to blame someone else this year for our difficulties, for our failings, for our discontent. Perhaps more than in other years that is why we really need to come together and pray as a community, be a community, know we are part of a community despite our differences.
While Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur focus us on the ‘me’, they are followed quickly by Sukkot, a definite ‘us’ holiday. In fact, Sukkot not only helps to focus on ‘us’, but brings the joy of the renewal, of freshness experienced at Yom Kippur into full measure.
We remember the blessings of annanim kavod, the clouds of glory that accompanied us through the desert; our clothing and foot garments never wore out and we were protected from the elements of nature. This was the blessing we received when Moshe Rabbeinu received the second set of Esert HaDibrot, the Tablets of Commandments. In return, we begin the year performing a mitzvah. We build and dwell in a Sukkah. So anxious was the Maharil to perform this mitzvah, he had the custom of beginning the building of the Sukkah the night after Yom Kippur. We open our temporary shelters to guests, both ancestral and contemporary.
Inside the Sukkah, we lift and shake the Lulav, the four species. The Bahir compares these species to human anatomy and our senses. Hadas (myrtle) is the eye that we must keep open against hate, bigotry and bribery. Aravah (willow) are the lips with which we may speak out for justice. The Etrog (citron) is the heart so that we feel compassion, love and empathy. The Lulav (palm) is the spine, that we be straight and strong, to serve as God’s loyal and grateful people. In bringing the four species together and shaking them in all six directions, we are reaching out, pointing a way, to promote the recognition of divinity in relationships, in community and among communities.
With the rising hatred in the world, may this be the year the Sukkah brings people together for rejoicing. Ken yihi ratzon. So may it be God’s will.
From my family to yours, wishing you a joyous, healthy new year.
L’Shanah Tovah Umetukah
 Yaakov ben Moshe Levi Moelin, Talmudist of German Jews whose minhagim was a source for the Shulchan Arukh.
 Bahir or Sefer HaBahir is an anonymous mystical work, attributed to a 1st-century rabbinic sage Nehunya ben HaKanah
I found myself in the garden today. I've ignored it far too long. In fact, I never finished planting this year as in June, my husband of 41 years was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, the brain tumor John McCain has made a household word. Only Jeff's was in a location that was not operable so radiation and chemotherapy have been our daily routine.
Like governors, mayors and corporations around the country, Jewish leaders have joined together to lift our voices in support of the world wide desire to tend to and attend to God's creation, our earth. I was delighted for the opportunity offered me by Hazon to sign the letter that supported the Paris Climate Accord which was published June 13th, 2017.
We are Jews, organizational leaders and rabbis, teachers and students who work passionately towards a bright American Jewish future.
We are also human beings who care deeply about all life.
And from this integrated Jewish and universal perspective, we are shocked by the US government’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.
This decision stands against common sense. Across the whole world, governments, corporations, non-profits, religious communities, and families and individuals are doing the hard work of slowly trying to wean ourselves from our own unhelpful behaviors and our fossil-fuel based economy, and toward a brighter future that better protects our planet and all its inhabitants.
The Climate Accord is a voluntary framework, signed by every country in the world except for Syria and Nicaragua. The signing was one of the largest gatherings of world leaders in human history. The withdrawal of the United States is tragic, and deeply problematic. As Jews living in a free society, we know the power of a shared framework which, even without legislative sanction, has a huge influence on the world. That’s what the Torah is; that’s why the Jewish people for twenty centuries have been on the right side of critical issues; and that’s why it is so critical that the Jewish community now stand up not merely to advocate for the Paris Climate Accord, but also to help implement it.
As Jews, we are also proud of our long history of economic innovation and entrepreneurship, so we are baffled by the false premise that withdrawing from the Paris Accords somehow prioritizes American jobs; on the contrary, our 21st century economy is driven by new energy technologies and our solar sector already far surpasses coal. Even so, we empathize with workers in the fossil fuel industry fearful of the changing energy economy, and strongly support business innovation and public policy to assist these workers during the transition to clean energy. Our nation’s economic interests are far better served by investments in this new energy economy than by the denial of climate science. Many experts agree that withdrawing from the Accord will weaken our economy – and threaten vulnerable populations both here at home and across the world.
In the face of this unfortunate decision, we applaud the leadership of mayors, governors, and businesses across the country who are taking responsibility for working towards the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. The US federal government is a vital actor when it comes to fighting climate change, but there is much that we can do ourselves, as institutions and individuals. Our children’s future demands that we do all we can.
Today, therefore, we call upon all Jewish federations, JCCs, synagogues, camps, day-schools, Jewish organizations, leaders, businesses, and community members to identify ways in which we, the organized and powerful American Jewish community, can and must respond to this climate crisis. There could not be more urgency at this moment, and our moral courage and bold leadership is needed on a national and global scale.
Here are some of the things that you can do:
In the Mishna, Hillel teaches us, “When no else is acting, act.” We stand together, united in our commitment to a sustainable future."
And, it is signed by individuals as well as organizations, both big and small.
Are you ready to observe the commandment of baal tashcit? To neither destroy nor waste but rather to be a caretaker of the environment.
Are you planning to attend the January 21 Women’s March in Denver? Concerned citizens of the diverse communities of Colorado will come together to champion human rights and dignity, and to send a message to our elected leaders to act to protect the needs of women, their families and our society.
In recognition that it is Shabbat, there will be a brief Shabbat service at 8:45 A.M. before the march begins. All are warmly welcome to come to share inspiration and hope. Meet at the First Baptist Church of Denver, 1373 Grant Street, downtown near the State Capitol. See more details at https://www.facebook.com/events/735818996567451/
With Jeff returning to Colorado in time for Chanukah after our being a commuter couple for eight years, I am sharing a story written 2/2015 with the belief that my gift keeps growing.
THE GIFT OF LOVE
Leaving the doctor’s office, I climbed into the car and started down the winding parking ramp. Breathe, I reminded myself as I replayed my conversation with the physician moments before.
“See how the white here turns gray there and when we turn it this way, the opposite is true? That’s the bone marrow. This should be that color and it’s not.” His voice faded for me as he described the things it could be but probably weren’t. I heard clearly, “…of course we won’t know for sure. That’s why we need the biopsy. It’s easiest to go into the shoulder so we’ll do that and grab a few cells. Then we’ll know for sure and when we do, we’ll go from there. Of course, there’s a chance it’s something else.”
A chance it’s something else. I’d been trying to track down for a year what was wrong. This was the one year anniversary of finding out my husband of 38 years had leukemia. I had jokingly remarked then that we’d been together so long we were sharing the disease, I had the symptoms but he had the diagnosis.
I looked up and spoke aloud, “If this is how it’s going to be, You have to watch over my children.” No denial for me. I went straight to bargaining – I was good at that. It’s in the DNA. Abraham Aveinu (our father) haggled with God over whole cities. Jacob wrestled for a blessing. Moses argued about taking a job. Surely, it was ok for me to request a little attention for my family.
In a few short weeks, I had gone from pain to preparing a bucket list. Upon returning to my physical therapist for a recurrent shoulder pain, he requested an MRI. The MRI led to a complete body bone scan and now a bone biopsy for probable bone metastases.
With Thanksgiving coming up, the procedure could not be scheduled for a week. Somehow, I had to get through the holiday weekend. I was determined not to spoil the holiday for everyone. I wouldn’t say anything. That resolve lasted about thirty seconds after my getting off the plane. At the airport, my sister was too perceptive.
“It’s been a long day.”
“Ok, but what’s really wrong?”
I caved. After insisting I could not leave the family gathering without telling everyone, she also agreed to let me reveal it at a time of my choosing.
Thursday was a hustle and bustle of last minute shopping, cooking, cleaning up, and setting the table. Part of the family participated in the annual city race and my 70 year old brother-in-law came in first in his age category. Friends and more family arrived for a splendid Thanksgiving meal, followed by games and music, smiles, laughter and love.
Gathered around the kitchen table, I shared the news Friday morning with my family: siblings and siblings-in-law, nieces and nephews. My children and husband already knew and one dear friend. After the initial stunned reaction, the love and support that flowed was beyond sustaining. Then came offers to be donors, to come to take care of me if needed, to be available day or night for calls and support, the love was palpable. So much so that the third generation, just over one year old, 4 ½ and 7, picked up on the energy. They danced and gave out hugs to everyone.
That evening was filled with good food, laughter, cuddling and hugs. The 4 ½ year old drew heart pictures for all the adults and requested letters back, to which we all complied. Notes filed with blessings and love and hugs and thanks were written back, allowing everyone to find a place of gratitude.
I finally convinced my son, who had driven 400 miles to be with us and would need to drive back the next morning, to get some sleep. Towering a foot over me, he was at once my little boy and my right hand guardian. I drew power from the near commanding, “You’ll be fine,” from my eldest sister as we hugged farewell. It was an echo of mom’s, z’l’* , “I won’t hear of it. You’re going to be fine”, when at age ten and sick with rheumatic fever, I had asked if I was going to die.
Anticipating the 5:45 AM flight home, I spent the night on the couch with my second sister, talking in whispers the way we used to do as kids. Holding hands, we fell briefly to sleep before the alarm woke us to final hugs, tears and well wishes.
My brother drove me to the airport. There are big brother hugs and then there are big brother hugs. This big brother hug anchored me like the roots of a tree.
The morning of the biopsy came and my daughter drove me to the hospital at 5:30 AM. She escorted me through the halls of check-in and preparation, staying with me until the nurse came to take me for the procedure.
“Don’t worry about elevated vitals,” explained the nurse, “it’s normal to be anxious.”
“I’m not anxious,” I replied. “However, my daughter might need something.”
Facing one more, large, ominous machine, this time with my arms velcroed down so I would not move during the procedure, the last thing I heard before succumbing to the anesthetic was, “You really aren’t anxious. Your vitals are terrific.”
A few hours later, I was back home resting, thanks to my daughter. By evening, I was back to being mom, sending her home with chicken soup and knadlach to help her recover from a cold. Now there was nothing to do but wait for results. And so we did. We ALL waited.
If love and laughter, prayers and wishes can bring about miracles, I had a miracle. The reports showed no traces of cancer, no tumor, nothing of consequence to worry about. During the following weeks, I learned that scans, lab reports, symptoms of various minor illnesses and a few anomalies had converged to appear as one life threatening disease. I could go back to physical therapy and try again to heal. This time though, I would have the added strength of my entire family helping me.
Emails, phone calls, Skype calls went out to everyone. We cried, we laughed, we offered long distance hugs. I had been given the greatest gift one could know in their life time. Surrounded by family and friends, blessed with their support and their caring, I was encased in love and carried on the wings of Shechinah.
Chanukah is a holiday that celebrates the miracle of a battle, the miracle of light and the miracle of continued faith through daunting times. With the blessings of the first Chanukah candle, I knew that my miracle had arrived early, wrapped in the gift of love. Now, every morning, I awake with a new appreciation for life as I recite modah ani, I give thanks.
* Zichrona livracha: may her memory be a blessing
By Rabbi Birdie Becker
There is an ancient debate between the houses of Shammai and Hillel regarding how to light the candelabra called a Chanukiah. The House of Shammai extracts from the biblical diminishing of bull sacrifices for the holiday of Sukkot, the concept of decreasing the lights to be symbolic of decreasing evil, corruption and negative forces in the world. When the dark is decreased the light will shine through. Therefore, he ruled we should begin with eight candles and light one less each night. Hillel, on the other hand, believes that the concept of Kedusha, sanctification, asks us to rise above our human nature; to gain a higher level of holiness by reaching to the image of God within to expand light. He ruled that we should begin with a single candle and add one each night until the eight lights are burning.
On the High Holidays, we read a section called the holiness code whereby each sentence calls upon us to act and then sanctifies the action by concluding, "ki kadosh ani Adonai Elohaychem", because I, Adonai your God, am holy. This Torah imperative to be kadosh, holy, is the impetus to reach in, to reach up, to rise above. Thus, Hillel instructs us that increasing light, Divine light, b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God) in the world will overpower negative forces.
Focusing on the destructive force of burning flames and fire, Shammi’s reasoning is a hope that when the flame dwindles what remains will be strong enough to have the desired outcome. Hillel, on the other hand, sees victory as requiring actions which build upon one another to achieve enlightenment. One might say he is seeking a spiritual high.
We know that just as the burning flame can spread light, so too can it spread destruction. Jews have a long history of being thrown into political flames, all the way back to the midrash of Abraham avinu (our father) being thrown into the furnace by Nimrod. Our memories, to name a few, include the enslavement in Egypt despite the marriage between Joseph and Asenath, daughter of the Priest of Egypt, their two children and subsequent descendents. Then there is the first crusades which began 1095 CE at the bidding of Pope Urban II against the Muslim kingdom and of course the subsequent crusades (ending 1290s CE– some like to say the Spanish Armada of 1588 CE but this is not the traditional historian’s perspective), the Pograms (beginning in 1800s), and of course the Holocaust. These destructive flames include the holiday of Chanukah, 167-164 BCE, the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire who attempted to impose Helenism on the Jews.
There is a reason Julius Rosenwald, Lillian Wald, and Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch were founding members of the NAACP and Jacob Schiff, Jacob Billikopf, and Rabbi Stephen Wise sat on their Board. There is a reason the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was drafted in the conference room of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism as was the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Expanding light is what we are called upon to do. Tikkun Olam (repair of the world) is a central piece of our tradition because we understand that all of humanity is interconnected and regardless of whether or not we seem to be directly effected, eventually, we are affected.
Like other holidays that are celebrated at this time of year, Chanukah is the light in the darkness. The word Chanukah means dedication. This year, Erev Chanukah falls on Christmas Eve. May our communities, as well as those observing other holidays, and those observing no holidays, be dedicated to bring a little light into the darkness that has played out in our country for many months. Which ever way you light your Chanukiah: may we never shy away from diminishing the darkness when we see it or hear it; may we garner the strength to increase light and enlightenment for the better of our world.
Blessings to you and yours for safe and joyous Holiday Season
I read an article by a woman who wanted to be warned before the chanting of the Unatana Tokef so that she could walk out and not have to suffer from the images it evoked. On the one hand I thought, “Wow, a congregant who takes prayer seriously and knows what she is praying. This is wonderful!” On the other hand I wondered, “Isn’t this what prayer is supposed to do? Are we not supposed to wrestle with ourselves and yes, with God, too?”
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Community educator, choreographer, composer, performer, Becker, M.S.W., M.Ed., M.R.S., Ph.D., serves as rabbi for Temple Emanuel-Pueblo, cellist for Apples and Honey and is a Storahtelling Maven.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ISRAEL
WOMEN OF THE WALL http://www.nytimes.com/video/2012/12/22/world/middleeast/100000001969698/women-at-the-western-wall.html