25 December 2005
A Grab Bag of Light
A good Hanukkah to all!
For the first time in five years, I'm planning to be in the holy city for the whole of Hanukkah. Since I've come here, I have never left Israel for a full-fledged holiday (save for last Rosh Hashannah in Uman), but Channukah was always a touch easier to compromise on. I've found myself in strange places the past four years, always on assignment from work. NYC, Greenville, Phoenix (I think). One year dropped in unannounced at a friend's Philadelphia wedding on Hanukkah. I caught a ride with a friend out of Manhattan and we flew down to Philadelphia while I prayed musaf in the passenger seat. When I saw the groom he hit me and hugged me and laughed and cried all at the same time. I don't think I've ever come closer to bringing a groom joy.
It's a simple joy to be is Israel for Channukah - yes because there are lights in all the windows and the air is on fire and there are donuts in the shops and everybody cuts out early from whatever they were doing to go and light candles - but also, and I hate to say it, because there's no Christmas flurgh. No jingly naugahyde music, no tinsely chintz, no 7 shopping days 'till nothin', no plastic inflatable fat man, no elves and canes and stockings and whatever other random accretions have marketed themselves into this most American of holidays. The difference is so striking. So striking. Just candles. So simple.
I wasn't completely saved this year. Thank God (and my long suffering sister) I became an uncle, and I went to welcome the little guy into the world. Being just a week before, the Christmas machine was in high gear. Fox News had decided that "Happy Holidays" was an attack on Christmas. I hear the argument. I've already ranted on this in other places. I would just as soon the Christmas machine ignore Chanukkah completely. Who needs it? I just hope the 2 hours I spent forced to choose between below freezing temperatures and listening to "The greatest variety of...Christmas music" goes on my record as cleaning up some grievous wrongdoing.
For MCAryeh, who's troubled by the lack of good Hanukkah music, here's one with a whole lot of soul. It came to me just as the sun was finishing to set into the first night here in Jerusalem.
There's a story that stay's with me. It's not entirely a Chanukkah story, but it always comes to mind this time of year...
The Rebbe Rashab - the fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch - was at a spa with a few of his Chassidim.
On Shabbos, the Chassidim finished davening long before he did. This wasn't unusual. They went and made kiddush, and made a few l'chaims before the Rebbe got there.
When the Rebbe arrived, one of the Chassidim, Yosef Yitchak Horowitz, was already a little tipsy. He leaned in and asked the Rebbe a question. "Rebbe", he asked, "What's a Chassid?"
The Rebbe thought for a moment, then responded, "A Chassid is a lamp lighter. He goes around this world, carrying a light at the end of his pole, and he knows the light isn't his, and he goes around lighting the lamps of the world."
"And what if the lamp is in the desert?", the Chassid asked.
"Then you have to go to the desert, and light the lamp. The barrenness of the desert will flee from before the light."
"And what if the lamp is under the ocean?"
"Then you have to take off you clothes, jump in the water, and light the lamp."
"And this is a Chassid?"
The Rebbe thought for a time, then responded, "Yes, this is a Chassid."
(Open your heart)
The Chassid cried, "Rebbe, what if I don't see the lamps?"
The Rebbe responded, "If you don't see the lamps, you have to start with yourself. If you are coarse, all you will see is coarseness in others. If you refine yourself, you will see the refinement in others."
Energized, the Chassid asked, "Do I grab the other by the throat?"
('The other' here, I think, is the internal force that opposes us when we try to do the work we have to do in this world.)
The Rebbe responded, "By the throat, no. By the lapels, yes."
A Good Channukah!