It is this image I conjured up when I read the following story regarding a Sephardic rabbi named Yosef Messas. Messas served as a rabbi in Algeria, Morocco and eventually the city of Haifa. Of him, the following story is told:
In the early 20th century, Moroccan Rabbi Yosef Messas received a letter from a Jew who had become skeptical of the Hannukah oil miracle story because he couldn't find a written source that attested to its authenticity. In his response, Messas strongly rejected the idea that a written source was the only way to prove something as authoritative and accurate. Messas argued that the home, and specifically the teachings of the parents, were of equal importance to the written Rabbinic laws. He wrote that the "love and care that parents build with their children" creates a source of authority. Parents, he wrote, "teach stories to their offspring that pass on from generation to generation," and these stories are on equal standing with written traditions.*
What an incredible message! In this view, the traditions passed on to us by our families are as valuable as the teachings of our Rabbis. Our homes can be sources of wisdom and truth when parents thoughtfully build an environment that nurtures their children with love and care, support and strength. Moreover, the stories we learn from our parents and grandparents (and beyond) have the potential to provide us with the kind of guidance that Jewish texts also offer us with regard to living ethical and meaning-filled lives. What a tribute to the power of our families (And no wonder so many of us find ourselves quoting our relatives later in life even if we swore we never would)!
Let me call out that the above scenario may not always suit the way we have experienced our families. Sadly, not every home is a place of warmth and unbridled trust. Nonetheless, I do not believe Rabbi Messas was speaking of destructive ideas or behaviors that cause us harm later in our lives. Instead, he was specifically talking about home life when it goes well, when it offers us a foundation for living lives of integrity and purpose. In these cases, our families are sources of light and enlightenment, of knowledge we want to pass down to future generations.
I am certain that each of you has your own Chanukah traditions. Some of these rituals may have been passed on by your ancestors (with authority, as described above) and others you may have created recently with loved ones born after you. Whatever ways we find ourselves telling the story and advertising the miracle of Chanukah this year, my prayer for all of us is that we have the opportunity to celebrate with loved ones, to create spaces that teach us to be better people even as we draw close to one another at the darkest time of year.
*Reprinted from "Sephardic Hannukah Traditions," by Adam Eilath, MyJewishLearning.com
For Further Reflection and Chanukah Celebration
For a bit of Chanukah esoterica, look at this article entitled Nine Things You Didn't Know About Hanukkah.
For a history of the latke and some suggested alternatives (if you dare!)
For some new, delicious recipes (including 9 different kinds of latkes).
For a different look at Chanukah that helps us understand how the holiday might inspire in 2016, take a look at this article by the current president of the American Conference of Cantors, my professional organization.
Purchase Chanukah gelt made with fair trade chocolate.
And of course, to participate in all the exciting events coming up in our synagogue community, click the link and sign up now! I hope to see you here.