Category Archives: Festivals

Yom Ha’atzmaut, Chanuka and Purim

Which festival is greater? Yom Ha’atzmaut, Chanuka or Purim?

Perhaps a silly question. Each holiday is unique and commemorates a different event and has a different message for us. But what really bothers me is how Yom Ha’atzmaut is given no respect by most of (if not all of) the Charedi world.

The two greatest miracles the Jewish people have witnessed over at least the last two thousand years of Jewish history, are our return to Israel and our return to Jerusalem. Jews have been praying for this era for thousands of years and it has finally arrived, but somehow many don’t see the event as miraculous at all.

To put things into perspective a bit. Purim is a great holiday. Haman tried to destroy us and we survived. There’s also the message that God works in hidden ways, which I think is an extremely important message for Jews living in the modern world. (I also think Yom Ha’atzmaut strongly gives over this message). On Chanuka, we celebrate a jar of oil lasting eight times longer than it was supposed to and a military victory against the Greeks and perhaps also a victory against Hellenism.

Great events. As Jews we will continue to celebrate these days, but when compared to the return of the Jewish people to their homeland, is there really a comparison? Purim and Chanuka happened millenia ago. The return to Israel happened in our day and age. We didn’t have Jewish sovereignty in Israel, like we have today, during the Chanuka or Purim periods. There’s no real comparison between what happened on Purim and Chanuka and the miracles we witness today with our own eyes. The miraculous wars Israel has won. ’48, ’67, ’73, etc. Who would have believed it? And not only have we survived and returned, but we’ve flourished here. The land is once again flowing with milk and honey. It’s truely marvelous to be a part of what is going on here. We have our own army to protect ourselves. It’s like we’re back in the time of Joshua or King David. For years we’ve been yearning for this.

Yet somehow, despite all this, Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim are ignored by the Charedi world and many even believe it to be a terrible thing. This is so sad and in my opinion it shows a tremendous flaw in their way of life and it is an enormous chillul Hashem – desecration of God’s name.

I am celebrating Israeli Independence day today, along with millions of other Israelis, singing Hallel at the top of our voices, making a bracha loud and clear. I only pray that one day, more of the black-hat wearing Jews that think they’re still living in Poland will join us too.

Chag Sameach L’Geula Sh’leima!

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Purim

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Tonight is the 14th Adar which is the date of Purim in most places. As a resident of Jerusalem I will be celebrating Purim tomorrow on the 15th of Adar.

On Purim we commemorate and celebrate the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia from Haman’s plot “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in a single day.”

We read Megillat Esther which tells the story of our survival. One of the points that stands out most in the book of Esther is that God’s name is never mentioned. This is the only book of the Tanach that does not mention God at all. The title of the book, Esther, also alludes to God being hidden throughout the story as the name Esther comes from the Hebrew verb “l’hastir” which means to hide. One of the basic messages of the book of Esther is to point out that even when it seems that God is far away, that He has “hidden His face” from us, He is still pulling the strings behind the scenes and watching our backs.

This is an extremely pertinent message for any Jew living in the past two thousand years, including us today. We’re a people that have journeyed from country to country, wandered the globe, been persecuted almost everywhere we go, but somehow survived it all. It’s remarkable we’re still around. It’s incredible that we’ve returned home after a two thousand year exile. This is easy for me to say sitting in Jerusalem and I wouldn’t be able to say it were I living in Europe and we turned back the clock 70 years. Nor would I be able to say it if everyday there was the constant worry of another pogrom. Nor could I say it living in Israel during the Crusades or in Spain during the Spanish inquisition or in Yemen in the Middle Ages, etc.

But we don’t live in any of those time periods and nowadays we do have the benefit of hindsight and being able to see that things worked out at the end of the day. The history books don’t mention God guiding the Jewish people through the difficult times and neither does the book of Esther. But the message of the book is clear. God is there even if He isn’t mentioned, even when it seems like He’s hiding.

To this day the miracle of the Jewish people continues. It is a people that continues to thrive, continues to survive, a people that refuses to give in. In every generation it seems like another of our foes rises up against us to annihilate us, but we survive. Today, we have the Arab world desperately trying to wipe us out. Palestinian terrorists firing rockets at our homes whenever they get the chance. Others blowing themselves up on our streets or taking captive innocent Israelis. From Iran we have the threat of nuclear warfare. Ahmadinejad threatening to destroy us. The central idea we celebrate on Purim is that God is with us. No matter how bad things get “I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God.” (Vaykira 26:44).

The message of the Purim has never been more relevant than it is today. In a world where we may struggle to see God’s role in our day to day lives. A world where the weather can be predicted a couple of days in advance, where it seems more than ever that we are totally in control of our fates. The Purim story challenges us to see God working behind the scenes, leading us as a people, every step of the way.

Two articles I recommend reading about Megillat Esther:

R Leibtag’s – Purim and its Hidden Message

Yehuda Radday – Chiasmus in Hebrew Biblical Narrative (the bit on Esther)

Purim Sameach

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A bit about Maoz Tzur

Here’s a bit about Maoz Tzur from the Koren Sacks siddur:

Maoz Tzur was composed in Germany in the thirteenth century. The first letters of the verses spell Mordekhai, other than this we cannot identify the author. The first verse recalls the dedication of the Temple and looks forward to its future restoration. The next four verses describe, sequentially, four crises and deliverances of Jewish history – slavery in Egypt, the Babylonian exile, Purim and Chanuka itself.

Maoz Tzur is an inspirational song. It takes us through some of the key events of Jewish history. Of how peoples throughout the ages rose up to destroy us but we managed to survive. It’s astonishing how many attempts have been made to wipe the Jewish people off the map but somehow we’ve survived and we’re as strong as ever. (Although Israel is under threat on all borders and many would love to see us gone).

Another amazing part of the song is the belief that one day things will be better. That one day we will return to the land God promised our forefathers. This isn’t the only prayer that speaks of the future restoration of the Temple and our return to Israel. It’s hard to find a prayer that doesn’t mention this belief and the Bible is full of promises of a future redemption, but we sometimes forget how extraordinary it is that our ancestors stayed strong to their beliefs and that, eventually, the Jewish people actually returned to its homeland. I ask myself whether I would have kept faith of a future return of the Jewish people to Israel in twelfth century Spain, France or Egypt. A millenium after the destruction after the destruction of the second Temple and almost another millenium to go till the Jewish people would actually return to its roots.

Maimonides in his Epistle to Yemen and Epistle on Martyrdom encourages the people to keep their faith. Would you have kept your faith in those dire conditions? Forced conversions, massacres, false Messiahs, not a hope in the world of returning to Israel. But they kept their faith and over eight hundred years later we’ve returned.

Chanuka Sameach and may we witness the rebuilding of the Temple soon.

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Chanuka

Tomorrow night is the first night of Chanuka. Here’s a nice video about the holiday:

Chanuka Sameach!

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New final stanza to Maoz Tzur

Dr Avi Shmidman and Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom have a composed a new final stanza to Maoz Tzur – a traditional Chanuka song.

The original lyrics of Maoz Tzur are about the Jewish people’s struggles throughout history and how, thanks to God, made it through each of them. The last verse speaks of the hope of future redemption and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The new verse, composed by Shmidman and Etshalom last year, speaks of the miracle of the return of the Jewish people to its homeland after a bitter 2000 year exile.

You can download the words in PDF format, with an English translation and a Hebrew explanation of the lyrics here.

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