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December Message from Rabbi Louis Zivic, D.D.

Dear Friends, 2183 years ago the Hasmoneans won the first recorded struggle for religious freedom. The rabbis of the first century celebrated the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days. How best to commemorate the holiday is a discussion that can be found in the Babylonian Talmud beginning in Tractate Shabbat 21a.

We find that there is disagreement about how the Hanukkah candles should be lit between the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel. Bet Shammai reasons that the cruse of oil must have been filled to the top when it was first lighted and as the days went on there would have been less and less oil in the cruse. Therefore they reasoned that on the first night of Hanukkah we should light all eight candles and on each of the subsequent nights we should take away one candle until on the last night there is one. This also follows an earlier pattern of offerings made at the Temple for Sukkot. Bet Hillel reasoned that in “religious matters we may increase, but not reduce,” i.e. we can do more to emphasize the miraculous nature of events, but we may not reduce them.

As you are all aware, we follow the teaching of the School of Hillel regarding the kindling of Hanukkah lights. I encourage everyone to follow Hillel’s maxim with regard to our own lives as well. We should strive to increase religious matters; be it discourse or ritual in our lives and the lives of our families. Equally, we should strive to emphasize the miraculous, by emphasizing a sense of wonder about creation. An example might be the idea that our bodies continue to work when we are asleep. Breathing continues, our bodies continue to work their chemistry, our minds are dreaming, etc. These aspects of life should not be taken for granted any more than photosynthesis. Just because we can explain something does not mean it is not miraculous.

Miracles are the product of a worldview (Godview?) that includes heart, mind and soul. Let’s follow the teaching of Hillel and increase our knowledge, our emotional capacity, and our spiritual selves. Hag Urim v’sameah. Happy Hanukkah. Don’t curse the darkness. Kindle your lights.

B’shalom

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