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December 23, 2011 / 27 Kislev, 5772

Haftarah for Hanukkah
Zechariah 2:14-4:7

Seeing the Light

The haftarah for Shabbat Hanukkah has an odd structure. The beginning and end, starting with our joy at God’s return to Zion and the Jewish people and concluding with a vision of a brightly lit menorah, fit the mood of the holiday perfectly. But in the middle section, the prophet Zechariah relates a very strange vision:

He further showed me Joshua, the high priest, standing before the angel of the LORD, and the Accuser standing at his right to accuse him. But [the angel of] the LORD said to the Accuser, “The LORD rebuke you, O Accuser; may the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! For this is a brand plucked from the fire.” Now Joshua was clothed in filthy garments when he stood before the angel. The latter spoke up and said to his attendants, “Take the filthy garments off him!” And he said to him, “See, I have removed your guilt from you, and you shall be clothed in [priestly] robes.” Then he gave the order, “Let a pure diadem [crown] be placed on his head.” And they placed the pure diadem on his head and clothed him in [priestly] garments, as the angel of the LORD stood by. (Zechariah 3:1-5).

What does this strange vision mean, and what does it have to do with Hanukkah? Dr. Michael Kochman, an Israeli Bible scholar, notes that “filthy garments” appear as a recurring symbol of sin in the prophetic writings; here, where the “filthy garments” appear only after the angel has rebuked the Accuser, Dr. Kochman sees a promise of God’s compassion for Israel – no matter what we may have done, God will not pay attention to our sins and only notices our stains in passing, while purifying the Jewish people (Olam HaTanakh, Zechariah 3:3).

We can further understand the connection to Hanukkah by way of a story told about the Hasidic master Reb Shlomo of Karlin (Belarus, 1738-1792): There was a certain man whose faith was shaken, who was plagued by doubts about God and Judaism, and who was beset with terrible nightmares. He traveled to all of the great Holy Men, but none of them could solve his problems. Finally, one rabbi suggested that this man visit Reb Shlomo of Karlin, and that the holy Reb Shlomo might help resolve his doubts.

The man traveled to Karlin, and arrived one evening during Hanukkah. It was Reb Shlomo’s custom, after lighting the Hanukkah candles and reciting the blessings, to sing various Psalms by the light of the menorah. The troubled man stood beside Reb Shlomo as he sang, and when Reb Shlomo reached the verse [The LORD] rescued us from our enemies, [God’s] steadfast love is eternal (Psalm 136:24), he put his arm around the man and hugged him close. When they had finished singing, Reb Shlomo turned to him and asked: “Do you believe that Blessed God can redeem and rescue us from all of our enemies, even from the ones within?” And with that all of the man’s haunting visions left him, and he felt as if he was reborn.

Hanukkah is not merely a commemoration of historical events, but an ongoing redemption from the “enemies” within us. When we recite the blessing, she-assah nissim l’avoteynu, ba-yamim ha-hem ba-zman ha-zeh, “The One who performed miracles for our ancestors, in those days at this time,” we should instead hear the blessing as “The One who performed miracles for our ancestors, in those days and also in this time.” For as Reb Shlomo of Karlin teaches us, [God’s] steadfast love is eternal; no matter what we believe to be our shortcomings, the Master of the World looks only toward our purification, to rescue and redeem us from self-doubt and inspire us to strengthen our commitment to walk in God’s ways

This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Abe Friedman, Anshe Emet, Chicago, IL. Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, Rabbi Abe Friedman developed his deep love of Judaism and the Conservative movement through the nurturing and intellectually stimulating communities of his synagogue, Solomon Schechter day school, USY, Camp Ramah, and Nativ. These experiences led Rabbi Abe to the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, California where he also received an MBA in Nonprofit Management.

New Publications

Leadership - Innovation - Community
Understanding the Haftarot:
An Everyperson's Guide

In this stimulating and unusual book Rabbi Charles Simon, Executive Director of FJMC, provides the reader with the context to understand how the haftarot were organized, why they might have been selected and suggests reasons for finding meaning and value.
You can purchase it a number of ways.
Intermarriage: Concepts & Strategies for Families and Synagogue Leaders
If family members and community leaders wish to become engaged in the process of Keruv they often need to ask, "Does Keruv have an ideology and theology? And if so what is it?" Then they need to learn how to respond to intermarriage from the perspective of both gender and religion. This publication reflects the most current thinking about intermarriage to date and attempts to provide family members and community leaders with the needed understanding to effectively work with intermarrieds or potential intermarrieds.
You can purchase it a number of ways:
It's time for Build-A-Pair
The best way to teach about tefillin!

HeneniThe "Build a Pair" Program is a comprehensive and fun learning program to introduce 5th, 6th or 7th graders to the joy and mitzvah of Tefillin in Jewish life. Multiple components interplay to explore the religious significance, the construction of, and the practice of "laying" Tefillin. A comprehensive education program with videos helps the religious school teach students the meaning of Tefillin in Jewish life and practice. Students practice writing their Hebrew/Jewish names and the SHEMA (first line) to insert into pre-made wooden Tefillin boxes. Students decorate the boxes in any creative way they wish, allowing for personal expression. Students either compete or cooperate in writing a "wRAP" song to sing at a Big Event. The Big Event can be the World Wide Wrap (WWW), sponsored by the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs (FJMC), held annually on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday. The WWW program is designed to introduce and re-introduce Jewish men [and women] to the significance of "laying" Tefillin. The "Build a Pair" student program attracts the parents to see their children in their model Tefillin sing the "wRap" songs, allowing two generations (or more!) to join in the mitzvah together, and to let the students' sing their "wRAP" song for an appreciative audience.

World Wide Wrap is Sunday, February 3, 2013
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