A not so happy Hanukah

Today, December 29, the 2nd of Tevet, is the last day of Hanukah.  Normally a joyous holiday, a time when on a spiritual level we celebrate bringing God’s light into a dark world.  Today, instead, the world feels rather dark, with hundreds of people dying and many more being injured in Gaza, about an hour drive by car from here.

Rabbis for Human Rights has issued a press release calling on both sides to stop harming civilians.  The press release is not yet up on the RHR web site, but it was sent to the RHR email list, so I have posted it here.

Normally we recite Hallel, a series of psalms praising God, during Hanukah. Hallel comes in two versions: full and abridged, or half-Hallel.  There are certain occasions, for example, the last day of Passover, when we do not recite the full Hallel, and instead recite the shorter version, because our joy is tempered by the fact that on that day the Egyptians who were pursuing us drowned in the sea, and they too are God’s children.

The RHR press release suggests that with what is happening in Gaza, we should not be reciting full Hallel, for a similar reason.

There are those who would argue against that, saying Hallel is nothing but psalms, and reciting psalms is a traditional Jewish response to times of danger or trouble.

And that is, indeed, a good point.  But as I thought about it, I realized that not all psalms are created equal.  Indeed, today is not a day to praise God in a way that would suggest gloating over a military victory.  It is, like the 7th day of Passover, a day when we should be feeling somewhat more subdued.  So what my response will be in a few minutes when I say my morning prayers is to recite half-Hallel, but add some other psalms.  I will add Psalm 30, which is associated with Hanukah as it opens with "a song at the dedication of the House, of David."  I will add Psalm 23, "the Lord is my shepherd" because it reminds of God’s presence even in dark places and times, and I will add Psalm 137, "by the rivers of Babylon," because it reminds me why I choose to live here in a place that confronts us with difficult times more than a lot of other places.

Last night as I was sitting in comfort in my family room watching "Man of La Mancha" on my big screen TV with my kids, I was very aware that not 60 miles away from here other parents were huddling with their scared children, having a very different evening.  Man of La Mancha is a great movie, with Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren, and a theme very much in keeping with what I blogged about yesterday — about the need for "the peace camp" not to give hope.

Cervantes phrased it far more eloquently than I could: "When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? To surrender dreams – -this may be madness; to seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness! But maddest of all – -to see life as it is and not as it should be."

My prayer is that the madness of Cervantes — the madness of dreaming for a better world, the madness of seeing life as it should be — will prevail over the madness of Hamas, which seems irrationally bent on self-destruction.

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Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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