One of the most vivid memories I have of my youth is the impossibility I felt in trying to unite my life as a university student with my life as a religious. I remember spending whole hours in the heat of a car crossing one of the largest cities in the world from end to end to get to my Torah class and finish the essay that had to be turned in the next day.
I remember the great frustration I felt when I turned in my papers late because I could not work on them on Saturday, the failing of subjects because exams fell on holidays, the great internal celebrations when a spontaneous strike saved me from another failure, and the beautiful walks I took every time I wanted to go to a party on Friday night. I remember it with deep joy and a rare sense of pride.
However, I must admit that at the time, the conflict was not so easy to deal with. I was torn between two moral discourses so different that I was not even able to know the extent of their differences. I wanted to live between them, they were my two worlds, and I did everything to keep them alive and stay in them.
It wasn't easy, but it was the place I wanted to be; I wanted them to come together, to cohabit and mingle; it was worth a try. That for once, the world inside wouldn't be at odds with the world outside, that Gentile and Jew could live together without judging each other. It worked from time to time and from time to time it seemed like madness that didn't end up consuming me.
There was a time when I felt the division so strongly that to this day I still remember that day. It was the sixth night of Chanukah, and I had been crying for a while because I had not been able to enjoy the holiday as I would have liked. It was also the last week of deliveries at the university, and I had written more than one essay a day, had not been to my temple, and instead of studying Torah I had had to dedicate myself to finishing the semester correctly; I felt that the moment had gone by; that I had completely failed myself, and I felt very sad, very trapped, and very angry with myself. I had lit my six candles like every night in front of the window and found myself writing my essay. As I progressed in the words, I fell more in love with the story I was describing, more in love with my analysis, and more in love with my work.
At that moment, faced with the anguish of writing, my candles accompanied me. Just as I was finishing, almost at the end of the paragraph a wonderful scene appeared in front of me, the night was beginning to light up to welcome the dawn when one of the candles went out. A few seconds later the second one followed, and so each of the candles I lit began to go out in the same order that I had lit them and with the same distance of time that I had taken to light them. It seemed like a symphony I had never seen before with such symmetry.
When they were finished, the dawn had already lit up the sky. I had already finished my rehearsal. It was one of the most aesthetic moments of my life and served me as an inner symbol of Chanukah, for the rest of my life. For me, these lights contain the meaning of everything the festival represents.
On Chanukah, we not only celebrate the military victory of the Maccabees, nor the consecration of the Temple after the victory to the Greeks; on Chanukah, we celebrate the union of faith with the intellect, the emergence of beauty through spirituality, and Israel's passage into exile. The Chanukah candles represent not only the miracle in the Temple but the light that illuminates us today still throughout time. We will now try to talk about it.
One of the recurring themes in Jewish films, plays and books is the inability of characters to integrate into their surroundings. Lost intellectuals in the middle of New York who feel they belong neither to the Jewish world nor to the country around them are common in Woody Allen films, American series, and 21st-century novels. However, they are not unique to the American art and popular media. From time immemorial, the Talmud has spoken about the internal division that Jews experience all the time.
The figure of the Exile in the biblical texts represents a quality of the soul that is incapable of having a land of its own and of belonging to the land in which it lives. Throughout the centuries the Jews have had to fight against the culture that surrounds them in order not to assimilate completely, in order not to lose their identity, their law and their traditions and at the same time not to separate themselves completely from the country that surrounds them and not to lose the few privileges that other nations have given them. The question "How far is it right for me to do what I do", "How far can I live without getting lost internally", is one of the many questions that Jews in the Diaspora ask themselves on a daily basis. Chanukah represents that conflict.
The war that was fought in Maccabean times was not only a war between Greeks who had dominated Jews, but also between Hellenized Jews who wanted the power of command in Greek hands and religious Jews who wanted to regain their identity as Jews, the study of Torah, the freedom to perform ritual practices such as Brit Mila, Rosh Chodesh, and temple services. This represents the internal division of the Jew between the desire to assimilate and the desire to remain a Jew.
We also learn this division from the example that exists between Joseph and his brothers. The rivalry that exists between Leah's sons and Rachel's sons represents the rivalry that has existed within the Jewish people over the years. When we look closely at the history of the Jewish people, we see that the tribes, although they had times of peace and harmony, were constantly separated from each other and fought with each other. So much so that there came to be two kingdoms in Israel. Exile helps to bridge the internal differences between the various groups of the people. At the same time, these differences represent the division that the individual feels within himself, through the coming of the Messiah and the healing of the end times, both differences will be overcome; first a descendant of Joseph will reign who will in turn give way to the descendant of David from the house of Judah. Chanukah represents the beginning of such salvation, it represents Yosef's exile in Egypt, his ascension to the throne as viceroy and the subsequent reunion of the brothers before him.
Chanukah represents the turning of the screw that the world gives to finally be placed by God in the best possible scenario; we celebrate that the few won over the many, the weak over the strong, that the political order that existed was surprisingly reversed and that which seemed improbable happened. During this week, we read the parashah (portion of the Torah) where the story of Joseph and his brothers is told; for beyond the temporal coincidence, Joseph experiences the same setbacks of fortune that the feast represents, and the most important parts of his story occur during Chanukah (the meeting with Potiphar's wife, the descent to the dungeon, and his majestic departure as viceroy).
Like Chanukah, Joseph represents the man who never loses confidence in God; he resembles his great-grandfather Abraham, because both are archetypes of faith in Judaism, but Abraham is so from a rational point of view, while Joseph is so from a point of view of joy and confidence. Even at the bottom of a dark pit full of vermin or confined in a dungeon, he never loses his security in God or his hope, and salvation comes to him in a natural, beautiful, adorned and detailed way; like the miracle in Greek times.
At the same time, Joseph's story also represents the two ways in which beauty can be shown in this world. Beauty can be external and cause envy and hatred as in the case of Potiphar's wife and brothers; or it can be internal and demure and cause empathy as the love he produced in the Egyptian people during his rule. In history, Joseph must learn to measure his words and make his external beauty internal; he must learn to master it and make it less imposing. This is the same rivalry that exists between Yahweh (Greece) and Tzion (the Jewish people), and it is one of the many struggles being waged on Chanukah.
Almost the last things we read about Noah are the blessings he gives to his children after the wine event. In this passage Yafet and Shem are the ones who cover their father's body and take care of him. However, when Noah blesses them he says that Japheth will dwell in the tents of Shem. Shem will be the one who brings spirituality to the world, who maintains the belief in only one God throughout the centuries, who receives over himself solid and structured laws that separate him from the world in the service he gives to God, Shem represents intimacy with God, monotheism. Yafet, on the other hand, represents refinement beyond spirituality, the human ability to appreciate beauty, to adhere to correct behaviors by mastering the most corporal and animal part of the human being. Even the word in Hebrew used to say beautiful "yafet," comes from Yafet himself. The Chanukah war is a war that was fought between the descendants of Japheth and the descendants of Shem. Between those who seek spirituality and those who seek beauty. Chanukah represents healing towards a world where both live in peace and build together a service to God that is right, that arises from an inner beauty of a spirituality lived intimately. Both nations represent the intelligentsia, but from different sides.
The Chanukah lawsuit represents the struggle between a beauty that is lived from intimacy and a beauty that is lived from manifestation to the outside, from an intellectuality that is directed toward the search for God and the acceptance of his commands; and the search for his physical manifestation and knowledge that intellectually seeks to pour out toward the natural and toward human independence. The ideal is the union of both
The words of Yahweh and Tzion only differ in the initial tzadi letter, that is the letter of the righteous (tzaddik), the union of the righteous, of the one who obeys and seeks God, with the nation of Yahweh forms the word Tzion: the nation that should serve God with the beauty and the western intellectuality finding a balance placed at the service of God.
Chanukah both the historical event and the ritual represent the healing of that internal division. It occurs in the darkest month of the year, representing exile, the forgetting of the Torah. But unlike the other festivities that remind us of exile, which are mourning and fasting, this one is a celebration full of celebration and joy because it reminds us of the positive parts of exile. After we recovered the temple, the exile continued, we did not celebrate the day the exile ended, which happened several centuries later.
The exile represents the departure of God, and we participate in it. It is through the forgetfulness of the Torah that we can get involved with God from our individuality. It is through coexistence and confrontation with Yahweh that we can find beauty from the spiritual point of view
The light of the candles represent the light that breaks that darkness, which is the primeval light and the light of the wisdom of the 36 wise men that maintain the world; it is the light of faith since it is the search for God through the intellectuality; with the light of the flame of those candles it is that each one individually approaches to correct that internal division, the Aieka to Adam that brings the light of the wise men that is the light of creation