Small enough to know you. Large enough to serve you.

Vayishlach Night (Rabbi Sermon 12/16/16)

Rabbi Neil SchumanOn Wednesday night I attended a concert at Carnegie Hall. It was a fundraising concert featuring Idina Menzel, James Taylor, Sting and Bruce Springsteen and more. Since it was a fundraiser for Rainforest preservation, I thought it would be select pieces from the artists with perhaps an earth or peace theme. It turned out to be a Christmas spectacular. While it is fun to sing “Santa Claus is coming to town” with Bruce, the Jew in me felt ignored and slightly envious. Chanukah can’t really compete with Christmas.

Christmas is heavyweight holiday. Whether Jesus is revered as God Himself or as a prophet of God, it’s the celebration of the beginning of a religion that centers around God’s unconditional love and the ability for human salvation. Good cheer then permeates the whole month. Since Christianity embraced art and music in their sanctuaries from a much earlier time, and since they embraced certain pagan rituals in order to appeal to a larger audience, the symbols and sounds of Christmas are wide, grand and well developed.

Chanukah on the other hand, is not our foundation holiday, it’s a symbol of persistence and celebration of perseverance. When Syrian/Greek King Antiochus’ religious oppression was so overbearing as to squash our religion and faith out of existence, we fought back. Overcoming the greatest odds, we managed to defeat skilled armies ten times our size and reclaim our Temple. This was the real miracle of Chanukah. The menorah lights lasting for eight days was just a sign from God, that He was pleased with our self-sacrifice. As we kindle our precise number of lights, we not only remember the miracle in the Temple, but also the sacrifice and monumental effort of the Maccabees to save Judaism. The fact that we’re still Jewish over two thousand years later is due to their efforts. It takes just a few blessings and just one candle to celebrate their victory and feel the eternal messages of belief and willpower.

Jewish artists such as Chagall and Agam, Carlebach and Matisyahu got a late start in their crafts compared to their Christian peers (although half the songs sung at the concert were written by Jews!). I was hard pressed to think of a Chanukah song that would have had the power and vitality to fit in with the Christmas mix (maybe 8 Crazy Nights?). But again these two holidays are Apples and Oranges. Our foundation holidays are Passover and Shavuot. Shavuot, commemorating the revelation at Sinai is celebrated by staying up late and learning Torah, and eating dairy delights such as cheesecake and crepes. Passover is our most celebrated and comprehensive holiday that crouches before none.

Therefore, this Chrismukkah, be happy for our gentile neighbors. Sting sang an English song, “If everyday was Christmas” and if everyday was Christmas, the world might just be a more peaceful and jovial place. While Chanukah can’t compete on scale, it provides us with very beautiful and meaningful message. Celebrate it with a beautiful menorah and fancy candles, fresh donuts and new ways of imagining ladkes. Write some new songs and share the age-old stories with your children and grandchildren.  In the Spring, when they’re snacking on tiny wafers, we’ll reclaim the upper hand while reclining with four cups of wine, charoset laden Hillel sandwiches and matza ball soup!

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