December was quite a month! During the week of Chanukah, we hosted and participated in a wonderful series of programs to celebrate the holiday.
The big mitzvah associated with Chanukah is pirsumei nisa, “publicizing the miracle.” Tradition teaches us to place the Chanukah lights someplace where they will be seen. (Unless we fear for our lives, in which case tradition permits us to keep our light under the proverbial bushel.) We display our lights to publicize the miracle: the oil that lasted until new oil could be made; the leap of faith that led us to kindle light in the first place; the miracle of hope in times of despair.
Especially this year, holding fast to hope and to Jewish joy feels like a radical act… and a necessary one.
Thanks to all who attended the Annual Meeting a few weeks ago and approved the slate of Officers and Directors, as well as the proposed Bylaw changes. And welcome to Wendy Penner, who has officially joined the CBI Board! We had over 30 people in attendance, both in person and on Zoom.
In this season of gratitude, I want to thank all of you for being members of the CBI community and for all you do to strengthen and sustain our community. I also thank you for honoring me by re-electing me to my second one-year term as president at the recent Annual Meeting.
Pharaoh’s dreams (artist unknown); an oil-lamp chanukiyah.
This week we continue the Joseph story. In this installment, Pharaoh has two disturbing dreams. In one dream, seven happy fat cows emerge from the Nile, followed by seven emaciated cows who eat the fat ones. In the other, the same thing happens with ripe ears of corn and shrunken ones.
No one in his court can interpret the dreams. And then the cupbearer pipes up: I was in your prison a while back, and there was a Hebrew prisoner who interpreted dreams! So Pharaoh sends for Joseph, who says, the dreams mean that seven good years are coming, followed by seven years of famine.
Joseph tells Pharaoh to set someone wise in charge of his storehouses, someone who can save during the years of plenty so there will be food to eat in the lean times. Pharaoh promptly promotes him, saying, “Could we ever possibly find another man like him, a man in whom is the spirit of God?”
(Or in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hey yo, I’m gonna need a right-hand man.”)
Pharaoh’s dreams are about guarding our resources. When there is abundance, set some aside and save it for when there won’t be. And this isn’t just about individual households saving what they can; Joseph sets aside grain for the whole nation, so the government can make sure everyone makes it through.
Every year, we read this at Chanukah. As my b-mitzvah students learned this week, there are different stories we can tell about Chanukah. One is the story of oppression and war in the books of Maccabees — which were not canonized into the Hebrew Bible, though they are part of some Christian Bibles.
Another is the story of the sanctified oil that lasted for eight days. That narrative comes to us from Talmud, and it’s the one our tradition chose to enshrine. That Chanukah story is a story about hope, and enough-ness, and the leap into faith when we don’t feel like we have enough fuel to keep hope burning.
Sometimes we feel like we don’t have enough. Maybe we feel that we ourselves aren’t enough. Maybe life feels overwhelming, and in the words of the poet William Stafford, “The darkness around us is deep.” The Chanukah story asks us to kindle light exactly then. That’s when we need hope most.
This week Torah says: don’t use everything up — resources are finite! Save some of what you have so you can help everyone make it through the lean times! Meanwhile the Chanukah story says: kindle the eternal light, even if you’re going to run out of oil! So which one is right? They both are.
The Torah teaching is about things we can touch: protecting our natural resources, not eating all the grain, making sure we can feed people when there’s famine. The Chanukah teaching is metaphysical: it’s not about oil, but about hope. It’s about kindling hope in our hearts, and keeping hope burning.
Earth and water and air and trees and food are finite, and we need to steward them carefully and share them equitably — that’s a big one, we’re working on that. But hope provides its own fuel. And like love, it doesn’t diminish when we share it. Being a Jew — for me — means living up to both of these truths.
We need to be wise with our resources, and help people who live at sea level, and nations that don’t yet have enough vaccines. That’s never been more true than it is now. And we need to keep hope kindled in our hearts, even when the world seems hopeless, especially when the world seems hopeless.
The Hasidic master Reb Nachman (b. 1772) struggled with depression. And yet he taught that despair is a sin. Because despair means the complete absence of hope. And that means we’ve given up on each other, and on ourselves, and on God. And if we’ve given up, we won’t work to repair what’s broken.
That’s another thing it means to me to be a Jew: tikkun olam, repairing our broken world. We are God’s hands in the world. It’s aleinu, it’s on us, to build a world of greater justice and love and hope — and not to give up.
This is the d’varling Rabbi Rachel offered at CBI on Shabbat Chanukah (cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)
Shabbat Services This Week
Join us this week for multi-access Shabbat Chanukah Morning Services at 9:30am on Saturday. Because it’s Chanukah, we’ll sing the praise songs of Hallel with our morning service.
For those onsite, we’re planning an indoor service, with social distancing and masks. For those online, we’ll meet in the CBI Zoom room as usual.
Torah Portion and Commentaries
This week we’re reading from parashat Miketz. If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s parsha, here are a few:
- 2006: The treasure of teshuvah
- 2008: Unrecognizable [Torah poem]
- 2012: S’fat Emet on Chanukah and on light
- 2012: On abundance and dreams
- 2014: Miketz and Chanukah: letting your light shine
- 2017: Miketz: Letting yourself dream
And here’s commentary from the URJ:
Happenings at CBI
Join us on Friday night in the CBI Zoom room for our monthly First Friday Shabbat Zoom Dinner. This month Rabbi Rachel will join us and will lead us in kindling the Chanukah lights as well as Shabbat candles, and we’ll share some Chanukah conversation and songs.
And join us at 4:30pm on Saturday afternoon for our Shabbat Chanukah Bonfire. Bring your own camp chair / folding chair, dress warmly, and bring a travel mug for hot cider! We’ll sing Chanukah songs by the fire as Shabbat draws to its early close.
Hope to see you soon at CBI.
It’s not like the Temple, sullied
by improper use and then washed clean
and restored to former glory.
This house is tarnished by familiarity.
Month after pandemic month I’ve circled
from bed to table to sofa to bed again.
I no longer see the mezuzah
on every door frame. Tonight
with one tiny candle I light another.
I want their little flames to galvanize
my hands to consecrate each room.
I sweep flour from my kitchen, affirming
here where I sing to my challah is holy.
So too the hallway where I hang coats
and newly-washed fabric masks to dry,
the bedroom with its pile of quilts
and rosemary plant in the window
struggling to make it until spring.
God, we’re all struggling to make it
until spring. Help me make this house
a place where hope keeps burning bright.
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Originally published in Great Miracles Happen Here, Bayit 2020; click through to read excerpts and to download the whole collection as a PDF to enliven your experience of Chanukah this year.
Happy Chanukah to all!
Shavua tov: a good new week to all.
Happening This Week
Light the first candle of Chanukah on Thursday night. And celebrate online: the City of North Adams Menorah Lighting will be virtual / remote this year. Join us via livestreaming on iBerkshires at 5pm on Thursday; read about it and RSVP on Facebook here.
Relatedly, starting on Thursday night there will be short offerings on Willinet on the first and last night of Chanukah, created by Rabbi Rachel and Rabbi Seth Wax of Williams College. Each of those two nights we’ll offer a short teaching or prayer or poem and then light the candles. Find that programming online at Willinet at 4:30pm on those two Thursdays.
And, join us in the CBI Zoom Room also on Saturday morning at 9:30am for Shabbat morning and Chanukah Festival services, led by R’ Jarah Greenfield.
Torah Portion and Commentaries
This week we’re reading from parashat Vayeshev in the book of Genesis. If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s parsha, here are a few:
- 2005: The strange soap opera of Vayeshev
- 2005: Vayeshev and couture
- 2006: In dreams begin responsibility
- 2008: In the dark [Torah poem]
- 2012: For a reason [Torah poem]
- 2012: Drawing (on) our dreams [Torah poem]
- 2013: On Joseph and solitary confinement [Torah poem, written for T’ruah’s Human Rights Shabbat] [pdf]
- 2013: The other story in this week’s Torah portion: Judah and Tamar
- 2014: Joseph, falling with style
- 2017: Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Faith (at My Jewish Learning)
- 2018: Letting our light shine
- 2019: On silence, and speaking out, and bringing a better world
And here’s commentary from the URJ:
As Chanukah Approaches…
We’re delighted to share this beautiful resource for this pandemic Chanukah — co-created for Bayit: Building Jewish by eight writers, artists, and rabbis, including CBI’s own Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. We hope these poems, prayers, and illustrations enliven this dark season! Read excerpts and download the PDF here: Great Miracles Happen Here.
Hope to see you soon on Zoom at CBI.