Dec 14 2017 Dvar Torah

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Rabbi Robert Eisen

Oh HANUKKAH, Oh HANUKKAH
Come light the MENORAH …

And we know what comes next! Or do we?

The song: “Oh HANUKKAH” is probably (for at least a few generations) one of the most familiar and popular pieces of this season. We learned it in our Synagogues, we sang it at home, and may have even taught it to our children. However, the song actually has a number of different versions … each of which teaches something different. The question is: Which version would we prefer to claim as our own?

In English, in any of its versions, the song is a joyous ode to some sort of secular celebration of a memory that is vaguely referred to, but hardly spelled out. Yes, there is dancing, there are Dreidels and LATKES, and even candles glowing brightly. But the only reason for any of this is what “happened long ago.” What happened? Why celebrate? On the one hand it could be said that the “What” and the “Why” are clearly understood … intuitive: What/Why else would we be doing any of this? However, the lyrics are also concisely ambiguous enough to be disconnected to the particulars of HANUKKAH, as well as its place in Jewish history (personal or communal).

The Yiddish version, which is the original, is a little more particular. As part of the lyric, a reference to the recital of AL HaNISIM (a paragraph which is included in our daily worship that speaks of the miracles that God performed for us enabling our people to be victorious in their/our battle with the Greeks) is included. Specifically, we are, in the midst of our joy and gladness, asked to pause to praise God for what happened then … as that is the real reason we are able to have these moments as we do.

The Hebrew version, which, while transforming some of the references to more Modern Hebrew idioms, makes one major change that cannot be ignored. In the Hebrew, though the events surrounding the victory over the Greeks are mentioned, and are clearly understood to be miraculous, their source is ascribed to the Maccabees … God is left out of the equation. The early Zionists saw their effort as being completely up to them. Yes, there was “mission, vision, and values,” perhaps even derived from a common history and heritage, but the influence of anything “Divine” is left out.

So, what is the reason for the (our!) song and the celebration? Are we caught up in some sort of secular spirit of the season? … do we recognize all that God has done and continues to do for and with us? … is our focus better placed on what we can do when we embrace a meaningful purpose for our lives? Or, maybe we should borrow a verse from each of the versions (a different one for each night ) so, similar to the colors that make up the spectrum of white light, our observance will include all of the factors that are part and parcel of our essence as Jews?

Oh HANUKKAH, Oh HANUKKAH
Come light the MENORAH …

And we know what comes next! Or do we?