The struggle against “Same Old, Same Old”-The last nights of Chanukah

      Everyone loves the first days of chanukah. Children are excited by what gifts they may get. Parents are excited that their children might appreciate the gifts they give. We can all eat just one more latke without guilt or heartburn. The lights, small as they are fill the room.
     The last days are another story. We can’t look a potato in the eye. The children know the good presents are over, or maybe they will get socks or school supplies. The thank yous to the parents have probably stopped, even if the perfect gift was given.
     This is precisely why the last days of chanukah are probably more important than the first. Let me explain. In the Talmud there is a debate over how many candles we should light each day. The school of Shammai says we start with eight, and then count downward. This way we would know how many days were left. The school of Hillel, which we follow in general, says that we start with one, and add each day. The idea is that we increase the amount of holiness over time, and not decrease it.
     This is a great metaphor for our lives. I feel bad for people who always so, “same old, same old”, or “been there, done that.” I feel worse for the people who have to live with them or listen to them. They are bored by just about everything.
     Judaism says that every moment of every day of our lives can be filled with holiness if we bring enthusiasm and appreciation for what we do. You may have eaten a thousand sandwiches, but you have never eaten the one you are about to have for lunch. That sandwich was made out of ingredients that will never occur again exactly that same way.
     This is only a way of thinking about things, and I chose the sandwich model because I am about to eat lunch, but you get the idea. If we say to ourselves each day that the world is newly created and that we have a chance to enjoy it in a way that no one before or after us could, then we will grow in appreciation for our lives, and not be bored by even the most mundane things.
     When you light those last chanukah candles, remember that we can increase the light, the holiness, in the world each day.

What we really celebrate on Chanukah

 

For most of Jewish history we were lived on pretty modest means. The average  meal was some kind of fried potato dish. Children played with little toys, usually a spinning top. The only light was a small candle.

We celebrate Chanukah by eating fried potatoes, playing with a top, all by candle light. Our celebration of Chanukah looks exactly the same as daily life over the last thousand years.

Why, then, is Chanukah such a big deal if we are doing something exactly the same as we would already be doing? On Passover we eat special foods. On Sukkot we spend time in a structure completely different from our house. There is no doubting that these are holidays. Chanukah, though, if no one told you it was a holiday, you may not know it was anything special.

I believe that is precisely the point. The real miracle of the Jewish people is ordinary people doing ordinary things under extraordinary circumstances. The story of the Maccabees was the struggle to live normal Jewish lives despite the efforts of our enemies. The Maccabees did not want to conquer the territories of the Assyrian Hellenists or take their possessions. They just wanted their daily lives back.

In the Warsaw ghetto during the Holocaust the Jews set up children’s theaters, and literary societies. Under horrifying conditions that would have broken the spirits of so many, the Jews of the ghetto went about their ordinary lives as best they could. They were determined to live as spiritually free human beings as long as they could.

Chanukah celebrates how miraculous it often is just to get through our day. There are so many challenges, whether the economy or illness or even the general anxieties of life. Chanukah is a reminder that every day is worth celebrating.

 

If You Have Three Minutes and Can Count to One You Can Learn to Meditate-This Sunday

Meditation does not require tremendous amounts of time and effort. It should make your life easier and happier, and not just be an opportunity for more stress.

This Sunday, December 18th, at 11 am at Adat Shalom, we will learn a few techniques that will help the rest of your day at least feel less hectic. Everyone is invited. Tell your friends, or at least someone you wish could learn to relax.

Learn how to meditate when you do not have the time, and when there is very little quiet in your life-This week’s hamakOhm

Learn how to meditate when you do not have the time, and when there is very little quiet in your life. Join me this Sunday, December 18th at 11am at Adat Shalom to learn how to meditate under challenging circumstances. We will learn a number of brief techniques that will help you get through your day better and maybe enjoy your life a little more. Everyone is welcome. No reservations necessary. Just show up.

Finding Light When We When Are in a Bad Place-This Morning’s Sermon

When things are not going right in our lives, we often say we are not in a good place. Not just a tough time, but something that is so overwhelming it feels like a place. Everywhere you turn is another challenge and difficulty. This is when we feel most alone.

This is the story of Jacob. He was on the run from his brother who he had cheated twice. He alone for first time in his life, away from the mother who protected him.

The only thing he knows is where he is leaving, not where he is going. He has no plan, no home, and no friends. Jacob is in a very bad place.

At night in the wilderness he dreams of a stairway reaching to heaven, with God at the head.

God tells Jacob, no matter where you are in life, I will be there for you, and I will be there for your descendants. Your descendants will be a blessing for the whole world. The whole world, not just people of Israel.

Jacob wakes up and says something strange. He says, “God was in this place, but I did not know it.” I don’t think this refers to geographic location. I think it means that Jacob did not think that God could find him when he was in such a bad place. He thought he had cut himself off from everyone and everything, which is why everything felt so dark.

God is saying to Jacob that the purpose of life is to help everyone realize that no one needs to be alone. God is always there with us. This does not mean God does everything we want. It does mean that God always cares about us, and wants to know how we are doing.

Your worst time in life, when you say you are not in a good place, can still feel like a house of God. You can find meaning when things do not go your way, because there is not a moment of your life that God is not available.

In the Book of Psalms it says, “For God, the darkness is not dark.”

The light is always there, but our sadness and anxiety often blocks it out.

This is why the verse, “God was in this place, but I did not know it.” is on the ark of Adat Shalom Synagogue.

Our congregation is a place to be when you are in a bad or dark place, not just when we are ready to praise or thank God. It is a good place to be when you feel loneliness and anxiety and frustration.

Even when we are just by ourselves, we never have to feel alone, or that we are in a bad place we cannot get out of.

When we come together, no matter what, and when we turn our hearts upward out of the darkness into the light that is always there and when we realize that God is found even in the darkness, we learn that it is always possible to be in a good place in our lives.

Why we call Abraham Father

 

In the beginning of the Torah, it seems like men are having the children all by themselves. This man sired that child, that man sired another, and so on. This probably spoke to the status of men in society at the time in terms of the child’s identity.

By the time of Sarah and Abraham, both parents are mentioned. After Sarah dies, the Torah says that Abraham sired Isaac, but does not mention Sarah. I do not think that the Torah is ignoring Sarah, but emphasizing that Abraham still acted like a parent to Isaac after some difficult situations that could have ended their relationship.

Sarah’s death caused Abraham tremendous grief, but also a bit of guilt. If you remember, Abraham never told Sarah that he was taking Isaac to be sacrificed. She never would have permitted this. There is a tradition that Sarah was told by another that Abraham took Isaac away, and she died of a broken heart before she had a chance to find out that the sacrifice never occurred.

I also have to imagine that Isaac started to feel distanced from his father after being tied up and almost killed by him. That would drive a wedge between anyone.

Abraham could have distanced himself from Isaac. He could have used his grief as an excuse. He may have subconsciously distanced himself because he felt he hurt his son. Instead, the Torah is telling us that Abraham remained engaged with Isaac in his life, and still acted like a father.

Their relationship may have been awkward and they did not speak as much as before their traumas. Nonetheless, Abraham never gave up on being a father.

So many people in their sadness cut themselves off from those who love them and need them. So many parents, grandparents, other relatives and friends cut themselves off from people they think they hurt or let down.

We are never going to be perfect, and we are never going to handle everything really well, especially when we are not at our best. Our loved ones, though, do not need us to be perfect. They just need us to be there for them and to be concerned for them.

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