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

Out of the Mouths of Babes – Shabbat Hanukkah (Vayeshev – 12/12/20)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Out of the Mouths of Babes
How do you respond when you’re amazed, silenced by the response of one of your students? This kind of lighting struck twice this week.
Wednesday afternoon, I was teaching the Gimmel class about Chanukah. After listing many of the persecutions that Antiochus had inflicted upon us, such as
  • Forbidding us to learn Torah
  • Not allowing us to observe Shabbat
  • Outlawing Brit Milah (Circumcision)
  • Forcing us to eat non-kosher food and
  • Taking control of our Temple and turning its worship to Zeus
I asked the class what would be their course of action, how would they respond?
After some time for thought, Jadon Lefkowitz answered, “I would pray to God. Just like God answered us when we were enslaved and persecuted in Egypt, so could God bring plagues on Antiochus and save us once more.” I was not prepared for this answer. I thought he’d say, “We’ll petition Antiochus or rally our people and fight back.” The correctness and purity of his answer took my breath away. Of course, he’s right. What’s the point of observing a Passover Seder every year if we believe it’s just a one and done occurrence? Twice daily, in our morning and evening prayers, we recount the exodus from Egypt to remind ourselves of God’s willingness to answer and redeem us. I had to gather my thoughts to reply to Jadon.
I told Jadon that he was 100% correct. Yet, it seems that God’s way with us has changed over time. Instead of doing outright miracles for us, God wants to partner with us. We have to make efforts, and then God will help our efforts succeed. That’s what the Maccabees did. They saw there was no reasoning with a madman like Antiochus, so they fought back with ambushes on Syrian garrisons. Eventually, they defeated large armies with God’s help. I thought this answer was sufficient but not as pure as Jadon’s.
Nonetheless, we should not think we don’t receive miraculous help nowadays. One instance that stands out for me was the Scud Missile Crisis in 1991. Saddam Hussein aimed 49 missiles at Tel Aviv. While the Patriot Missile system neutralized many of them, several landed in the heart of the city, collapsing buildings like decks of cards. Amidst all the devastation, only one person died from a direct impact. Perhaps God answered our cries once again.
As I relayed Jadon’s answer to our minyan Friday night, asking them how they’d respond to Jadon, one of our Hebrew School’s finest graduates, Danielle Silverstone, gave an answer that left me speechless once more. She said, “In Egypt, when you were enslaved and persecuted, God said, ‘I fought for you. Now that Judaism and the Torah are threatened, it’s time for you to fight for Me!’.”
There are records of fierce debates in the Talmud, with the sages sometimes uprooting the Torah text’s literal meaning. The Talmud asks, “What’s God’s response to us overturning God’s intention?” They say that God is laughing, saying, “My children have bested me.” I’m sure, when God heard Danielle’s answer, God laughed, responding, “Yes, good one, true indeed!” The Maccabees understood that this was a time to fight for God; therefore, they set out to save Judaism no matter its cost.
 I’m sure there are other ways to answer these questions. But we should take pride in our parents and teaching staff that produce such profound children. We have something special at MHJC. This has been especially evident lately from all the attendance, volunteerism, and support during Chanukah and the discussions on our next evolution. We make these herculean efforts because we have something special to cherish and preserve.
Happy Chanukah,
R’ Neil

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