We thank the NEAT students for preparing a wonderful and meaningful Chanukah Chagiga for the ladies and girls of our community. Their theme of “Cray-oil-a” was demonstrated through the décor, food and variety of booths. Under the direction of Mrs. Tzippy Scheinerman, the Chagiga Heads, Sarah Lerner and Devorah Silverstein, organized a fun-filled and inspiring event.
This week, we began to celebrate Chanukah, and celebrate is what we are doing! The halls are filled with the smell of latkes and doughnuts and, as I will illustrate, they have much more meaning than just fried potatoes and dough.
I recently saw a dvar Torah by Rabbi Laibel Lam that I would like to share, in part, with you.
“What is Chanukah? The Sages learned that on the 25th day of Kislev, the days of Chanukah are eight.” (Gemara Shabbos)
The Sfas Emes points out that saying “the days of Chanukah are eight” means much more than some subtle poetic nuance. There’s a world of difference between saying, “eight days” and “days of eight.” One tells us of the number, the mere quantity of the days, while the other tells us about the quality of these days of Chanukah. Somehow they are “days of eight.” What does that mean - and what does it mean to us?
The Greek civilization presented a competitive culture, which sought to substitute and supplant Jewish life. It offered intellectual rigor, spirited sports, the catharsis of theatre and art. The Jewish nation was allured to this sister system, which was at first friendly and only later proved a poisonous and deadly affair.
While the Greeks were genuinely interested in categorizing and artistically mapping the mathematical beauty and truth of the universe, their vision of reality was by definition limited to the distorted lens of the fleshy human eye and its empirical methodologies.
That the world was a seven-day production and that we operate within that framework creates a natural boundary for even the most perfect description of reality. Everything experienced is enveloped within the arena of our existence. The logical limits of Greek thought and life were by definition within the reach of “seven.”
The word for eight in Hebrew – “shemonah” - when shuffled as an anagram spells out the word “neshamah” - the soul - and also “mishnah” - the building block of the Oral Torah. Truncate delicately, and we are left with the “shemen” - oil, the stuff of the Chanukah miracle and the centerpiece of the celebration.
Now the idea of the oil, of eight, of soul, of the Oral Torah, rises and rides high above and beyond the confines of mere nature. Eight encompasses the sphere of seven, enriching and extending it. When penetrated, it anoints even natural life with a tinge of the miraculous.
Seemingly simple activities and customs done by so many holy Jews over so many thousands of years must be packed with profundity, even if we don't perceive it at first. I'm talking about “latkes.” I think we can now understand “latkes” - potato pancakes. No joke!
When that potato mix is cooked in oil to be joyfully ingested, we are not engaged in a mere epicurean exercise. It’s the Oral Torah’s authentic recipe of how to mix the oil, to engage the eternal soul, breathing ultimate meaning into every molecule of life. If that lowly potato can be so educated and so dedicated then there is hope for us also to gain much more than just mass quantities of calories, enjoying quality time during these days of eight.
We look forward to greeting everyone at the PHDS Chanukah performance next week.
Good Shabbos and happy Chanukah,
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman