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Originally posted here on Beyond BT

Last year I was asked to speak at a small Chanukah gathering for a kiruv organization. The crowd was a mixed one ranging from not- yet-shomer shabbos to fully frum for 15 years. As always, I didn’t know what to speak about until the night before. This is what I said:

Last night my family and I went to my mother’s house for a Chanukah party. We do that every year, getting together with my brothers and their respective families. Even though there is a minhag to have dairy on Chanukah, at my mother’s house we always have meat. (You have to listen to your mother) Everything was going along fine. My mother was giving the grandchildren “the chocolate gelt”, which no Chanukah party would be complete without, and there was a whole tumult. I was in charge of buying the gelt this year because my mother doesn’t drive and she couldn’t find pareve gelt close to her home. I walked over and asked what was going on. They screamed “these are dairy, they’re dairy!” I asked myself “How did I do that?” I remembered when I had bought the gelt that the packaging of the dairy and the pareve coins were strikingly similar. Usually, they put the dairy coins into the blue nylon plastic netting and the pareve ones in the red netting or the gold foil is the dairy and the silver foil is the pareve. But these were exactly the same except for the little writing on them saying “pareve” or “dairy”. I grabbed the gelt and sure enough they were the pareve ones, call me the “Man who saved Chanukah.”

I was thinking about what we can learn from that confusion. We see in the story of Chanukah that there were two warring cultures, the Greek culture and the Jewish culture. We usually spend our time discussing the differences between these cultures, how disparate they were and that, thank G-d, the Jewish culture was able to win that physical war and that ideological war.

What we often overlook is that there is a lot that is very similar between the two cultures. Winston Churchill speaks of how the Jewish people and the Greek people have made the greatest contributions to Western civilization. He says that Jerusalem and Athens were the prime places from which wisdom and knowledge eminated. But we don’t have to rely on Churchill for this point. The Rambam, one of the greatest Jewish philosophers, says that Aristotle, the greatest Greek philosopher, was just a step below prophecy. There is a halacha that a sefer torah can be written in one of two languages. One of them, of course, is Hebrew, the other is Greek. There are many references in the commentaries, especially the Zohar, that speak in praiseworthy terms of the Greek culture and how there is a certain level of respect that must be given to it and that the “ancient Greeks” had a certain level of “emunah” that should not be ridiculed. I was thinking how this is a very interesting thing. I think we find in our struggles, in our daily lives, that most of us are not running after something that is obviously “not Jewish”, obviously “not Jewish”. If there is any type of a question or any area that we personally or communally fall into it’s because it is something that “looks” Jewish, it is something that sounds good, it sounds right. We’re not running out to do something that we know is completely forbidden. What we can learn from that, just like the story of the chocolate coins, is that you’ve really got to look very well at whatever it is that you are interested in incorporating into your life. You’ve got to look to see if it’s pareve, see if it’s dairy, see if it’s kosher. Even if things are packaged exactly the same way, you’ve got to look deeper than the surface.

One of the understandings of Chanukah is that we bring light into our homes, into our lives. Light is exactly what we need in order to distinguish between two things that are apparently the same.

The gemorah (Brachos 53b) states that you cannot make the brocha on the havdalah candle until you have benefited from its light. The gemorah defines “benefit” as being close enough to the light to distinguish between two coins. That is one of the reasons that some people look at the tips of their fingers in the light of the havdalah candle (since the difference between the nail and the skin can be determined by the same amount of light that you need to distinguish between two coins). We need to shine the light of our intellect and the light of the Torah into our lives so that we can properly discern what is Jewish and what is “all Greek to me.”

A Lichtiger (Illuminated) Chanukah to everyone.

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Holiday Sales Gone Crazy

Deep discounts are one thing but this is getting out of hand.

big-sale
Actual price tag seen at Target, sorry for the bad resolution, blackberry picture.

The Burning Channukah Question

Life in Israel has this great music video delving in to an ages old Channukah Mystery.

Hat Tip: Ezzie

A Great Community

One of my daughters broke her leg yesterday. Thank G-d, she is OK and it seems like she won’t need the surgery they were originally contemplating.

I have to say that from the minute the accident occurred through the first night back home, our community has been unbelievable. From the School Principal who called me directly as soon as the accident occurred and managed the situation and called me on the cell afterwards and called my wife at home and whe sent my daughter a “Candy-Gram”, to the three Hatzalah members who provided not only expert care but patience, assurance and the feeling that we were in “good hands”, to the students and teachers of the school who assisted in comforting my daughter and shlepping her things home, to the 3 teachers that called the house, to the teacher who came to visit, to the gaggles of girls who visited with gifts and good cheer, to the friends who sent many bunches of balloons, candy, pictures, cards, dvds, etc. to the local physicians who provided their expert advice and guidance free of charge (these guys always get nudged!).

What a community!! Thanks everyone. Continue Reading »

Good Question

A sign at the New York City Department of Buildings, Bronx Borough Office:

dob-sign

Another fun “sign” post here on Temunot, here.

Grampa’s Menorah

In my family, there are precious few “religious heirlooms”. In fact, other than this menorah, I can only think of my Grandmother’s small, white, swan-shaped porcelain honey dishes used by my mother each Rosh Hashanah.This menorah is not much to look at. Although it is pure silver, it is small, a bit slanted to one side and it’s missing the shamesh.

But to our family, it’s the most beautiful menorah around.My mother still remembers that cold winter day when my Grampa brought the menorah home. He was wearing his trademark silk and wool scarf which was easily one and a half times as long as he was tall. He entered the home, menorah in hand. No wrapping paper, no cushioning, heck, no bag. Just the menorah in his shivering hand.This menorah came with silver caps so that you could put the oil right into the cup, place the wick in the oil and thread it through the silver cap. However, by the time Grampa got home that windy evening, a few of the caps had blown away. And, so, the caps were never used. I’m not sure what happened to the shamesh but I wouldn’t be surprised if that blew away too!Grampa Aaron was something special. He was about as close as I ever got to “the old country”. He had a heavy accent and his English was liberally spiced with Yiddish. He wore long underwear (longe gotkes) all year round including in the summer. He would cross major thoroughfares with absolute disregard for traffic signals and vehicular presence. Holding both armsstraight out to his sides as a stop sign was sufficient. When frightened he would say “Oy, I almost became a hearts attack.” He couldn’t understand why ice cream had pits (chocolate chips to me and you) and he, quite simply, did not hear too well. In the summer, Grampa Aaron would sit outside our bungalow in a brown chaise chair, taking in the country air and smiling. He quickly became popular with the colony kids who knew that a quick hello and a smile would yield chocolates, sucking candies and a few quarters for the pinball machine.

I’m not quite sure what it is about this menorah that makes it so special. Perhaps it’s because, like Grampa, though it may be small, old and a bit hunched to one side and though it may be missing a few pieces, beneath it all, it’s pure. And I guess it’s because this menorah is one of the few remaining links of my family’s Jewish past.

The Great Puppy Experiment

About a month back I posted on my experiment to see how cute puppies drive traffic to my blog.

I just peeked at search terms and can see that over the past quarter, and that only includes one month with The Cutest Puppies Ever post” 921 people visited the blog through a search term that was either “golden retriever puppies” “cute puppies” or some other derivative.

NO PUPPIES WERE HARMED DURING “THE GREAT PUPPY EXPERIMENT”