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Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Holidays’

Chanuka!

Eight days to celebrate salvation, doughnuts, our ancestors’ acting upon a will to make things better- and their faith that if they did act, things would indeed get better.

Among the many lessons of this holiday of night, light and Jewish might, is a powerful message to help us in our collective march towards ecological sustainability:

Ancient Greece Competition

Ancient Greece was a proponent of competition, debates, sports, “Greatness” manifest in winning- or better put, in beating others. If I was an ancient Greek, my potential would be contingent upon my ability to outlast yours.

Rabbi Simcha Frischling of Call of the Shofar, argues that Chanuka’s main symbol, the Menorah, is a protest to the Greek model of competition.

On the first night of Chanuka, we light one candle: crowning it with light, allowing it to shine bright.

The second night we light another candle. It too shines bright. And the two candles stand tall next to each other, neither outlasting or outshining the other. Jewish law stipulates, in fact, that if they are not the same height, the ritual is no good.

By the eighth night we have eight candles: all standing tall, all shining light, all burning bright. (What a magical site.)

I contrast the Menorah, or the Chanukiot that we light today, with an Olympic victory podium, which features the winner on top, the silver medalist below the gold, bronze medalist below silver- and everyone else watching from below.

Chanuka teaches us that there is another way, a better way, where I can be great without you being being any less great. Somehow, we can shine next to one another.

And even more than that- we’re told in the Talmud that the eight-candle Menorah is holier than first-night’s one-candle version: The more each of us can reach our fullest potential, the greater we all are.

One of the greatest illusions of today’s economy is that through competition, everybody wins. Lots of people do not win. There are losers within our own borders, and more dramatically (and most conveniently), a long way outside of them.

Capitalism has been referred to as the “least bad economic model” in the world. But Chanuka is a holiday of miracles, and on Chanuka, we don’t have to settle for “the least bad.” On Chanuka, we can believe in a way of life where one person or nation’s enjoyment, does not come at the expense of another person or nation, or at the expense of future generations.

Maybe we actually can create an energy economy where we share the same sunlight or the same wind. Maybe we can encourage goods to be produced in exchange for fair wages, in healthy working conditions. Maybe our success does not have to “leave others in our dust,” when our dust leaves behind environmental dangers we’d never allow our children to face.

We’re allowed to dream on Chanuka, and I bless us that this Chanuka we dream a reality where fulfilling our greatest potential as a world, is a function of everyone fullfilling their greatest potentials as individuals. Happy Dreaming! Happy Hannukah!

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By Michael Kagan

Author of the Holistic Haggadah (Urim)

Sitting in my succah this year I began to think about the significance of leaving my home for seven days and living (as much as possible) in a temporary tabernacle open to the heat, wind and rain (yes, it rained on succot in Jerusalem). If we are meant to be re-experiencing the years spent in the desert as nomads then why the emphasis on things agricultural which seems to be the antithesis of the nomadic life? If the purpose is to recreate the sense of in-gathering of the land’s bounty before the onset of winter then why the emphasis on the desert wanderings? A seeming contradiction.

Daniel Quinn in his celebrated novel Ishmael (and the sequels that followed it) divides human history into the history of two civilizations – the Leavers and the Takers. Who are the Leavers? Well they are the civilization that dominated the world before our present Taker civilization wiped them out. They are characterized by being hunter-gathers, nomads, Native peoples knew, more or less, how to take what they needed and leave alone what they didn’t. They weren’t especially peaceful but they weren’t exterminators. An example of Leaver behavior was told to me when I lived in Boulder, CO recently. During the summer months the various Native American tribes that lived in the area would vigorously compete with each other for game in the Rocky Mountains. Come winter and they would all come down from the high places and settle in Boulder peaceably trading, dancing, and keeping warm until the snows melted and then they would separate into their various tribes and start all over again.

Around 6000 to 10,000 years ago in the area known as the Fertile Crescent something new happened – humans discovered how to vastly increase agricultural yields from the land using iron ploughs and harnessing animal power. An increase in productivity allowed for a higher population growth that demanded more food that required more land that required taking neighboring lands that could support an even larger population and so on. Cities were built, laws were created, armies were formed, the Agricultural Revolution was born.

According to Quinn, only about 2% (and rapidly decreasing) of humanity are today identifiable as Leavers, with 98% (and growing) dominated by Takers.

So what has this to do with Judaism? Well isn’t it a coincidence that Jewish mythology dates the start of world history around 6000 years ago (5769 to be exact) and that the Garden of Eden and the creation of the first humans were purported to have been situated somewhere in the same area of Mesopotamia. Quinn understands the Biblical story Cain’s murder of his brother Abel as an archetypal story of the victory of the agricultural revolution over the old order of the hunter-gathers/nomadic peoples. Within this view point, Leaver history is confined to the first three chapters ending with the expulsion from the Garden and the death of Abel. From this point onwards it is all downhill with the establishment of the first cities, the corruption of natural values, the pollution of the earth, the Great Flood, the Tower of Babel. And then the turning point in the narrative occurs with the story of Abraham.

So are we Leavers or Takers?

I think that a clue to answering this question comes through an oversight of Quinn’s rendition of the Cain/Abel struggle: he forgets that there is a third son – Seth – who represents an alternative way, a third way. It is from this lineage that Abraham descends. According to the Midrashim, Abram is born a Taker, the son of a petty bourgeois shopkeeper living in Nineveh – the heart of the agricultural revolution, who undergoes an enlightening transformation (what Quinn calls – remembering) and leaves it all behind; he crosses the line (lit. becomes a Hebrew) and returns to the old ways – the life of a nomad.

But he is not to be a simple herder/nomad for the Divine message comes to him that he will be the father of a great people, a people that will live in this promised land, that will be exiled into slavery, that will return en masse with wealth and strength, that will travel through history sometimes blessed and sometimes cursed, sometimes close to God and sometimes far from God, but always somehow beloved.

Thus begins the Third Way.

We have been positioned in human history to be Leavers living amongst Takers, pretending to be Takers, working the land as agrarians, fully engaged in the technological world but not quite with all our hearts, souls and might. How so?

Many aspects of Halacha – the Jewish way of living – stress leaving things alone: Leave the four corners of your field alone; leave any fallen harvest alone; leave the four corners of your beard alone; leave the entire land alone every seventh year; leave one tenth of your income for others; leave your wife alone when she is menstruating; leave your home and live in succah, and most prominent amongst them all and what is considered the core of Judaism – Shabbat in which we leave things alone: our jobs, our financial concerns, our dominance over nature, our love of creating, our acts of destruction, our engagement with technology, with reaping, with sowing, with buying, with selling. On Shabbat we just are.

Sitting in my Succah I am acting out Leaver practices. For who else in this technologically sophisticated world (unless you especially like camping) would leave their secure, weather proof houses and live in a ramshackle construction for seven days? What farmer would leave ALL his fields fallow for an entire year? Which cell phone addict would turn it off for 24 hours every week?

We are messengers traveling through time moving among the Takers with Leaver memories wrapped in our practices and stories – no wonder we have been such outcasts. We carry with us a vital message – not about how to go back to the way it was – for the entrance to the Garden is blocked forever by an angel with a spinning, flaming sword – but how to go forwards from Leavers, to Takers to … to the Third Way, the next level of the game, a new way of understanding, being and living on this planet.

p.s. What the message is that we have been carrying so diligently for so long will be investigated in a future posting.

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