Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Historically the eighth night of Chanukah has been referred to as "Zot Chanukah" (lit. "This is Chanukah).  Channah and I were talking about it and she asked why.  I will be honest and admit that, while I am pretty sure I learned somewhere along the line in my Jewish education, when pressed for an answer I had absolutely no idea.  What I did have was a smartphone with unlimited data, so I was able to look up a few answers to satisfy a seven year old on the spot.

According to the traditional story, along with deconsecrating (is that a word?) the Beit Hamikdash, the Yevanim in the story leveled 3 decrees against the yehudim.  They were not allowed to keep the shabbat, not allowed to learn torah, and not allowed to preform a brit milah on the 8th day.  There are various reasons listed all over the places for all of these, but for myself I am going to say that, on the whole, these 3 mitzvot set the Jews apart in a way that could not be overcome- something that was the polar opposite of what the Yivanim wanted.

It is said that throughout history, as much as the Jews kept the shabbat, it was the shabbat who kept the Jews.  In the case of the Chanukah story I can see how this would be the case.  The idea of Hellenization all of conquered ancient Greece meant a total immersion  into their culture.  The idea was, in some ways, rather nice.  If everyone would be exactly the same, there would be no more need for fighting.  However, if there was one day in seven where you returned to immerse yourself in your "old" beliefs, you would never truly come to be one with the civilization around you.  By disallowing shabbat the Yivanim were trying to ensure a quick and complete immersion into the new society.

Those who pray each morning recite a long list of mitzvot, and finish by saying "and learning Torah stands against them all".  While there are many ideas behind this single line, I like the simple explanation the best.  If you do not learn, you can not do.  Forbid the learning and teaching of Torah, in concepts, rules and ideas quickly fall by the wayside.

The simple reason for outlawing a brit milah is that it set a physical mark of separation on the body that could not be removed (at least not easily/painlessly) I presume.  The idea I found though connecting it to ZOT Chaukah, that really put me on the road to this post, was that for culture that believed in the perfection in nature (with 7 being representative of that perfection as there are 7days of creation, days in the week, seven planets [that they knew of at the time] etc.), it was on the 8th day when Jews ADDED to that perfection (well, according to Jews anyway) that took them out of the realm of nature and placed them into the realm of Godliness and holiness.  The 8th day of Chanukah is meant to remind those celebrating that THIS is to what we are rededicating ourselves- the ideal of holiness and Godliness and being above the laws of nature.

Take it or leave it, that is what I got.

Well, tonight my family and I spent the evening in the Old City of Jerusalem.  (we had planned to come back home after a late afternoon appointment to be at a local rally but traffic was not moving so we eventually just gave up an went out to dinner.  The reason for the rally is a whole 'nother ball of wax.  I will have post on it at some point on our aliya blog should you care to read about it.)

Being in my year of mourning for a parent, one of the things that I need to try to avoid is live music.  It did not occur to me that on the last night of Chanukah in the old city that would be practically impossible.  It was the first time I felt like my presence In the Old City was unwanted.  Suffice it to say that, as I am seriously struggling with my beliefs right now in the first place, this had me in somewhat of a bad mood to begin with.

We went down to the kotel (where incidentally I totally chewed out another mother and her kids who were there with her whose kids who were SCREAMING for her but she was too busy in her own prayer that she seemed to feel it was okay to let them destroy everyone else's.  First I told off the kids, then the mother.  She just rolled her eyes at me.  Let me tell you I was in a real winner of a mood by that point.

In any case, I sat in front of the kotel with Channah.  I looked up at this wall where I am supposed to be able to pour out my heart, and instead started to pour out my eyes.  Last Chanukah we were there too.  I was so happy.  We had only a few days earlier found out Gabbi was a girl.  I prayed with all my heart for a healthy, little girl.  I didn't know yet that my father was sick.  I prayed for long life for my family, for my friends.  I remember standing there and just being so content and happy with where I was in life.  I had a great husband, an amazing little girl with another on the way.  A family who loved me from across the ocean. A home in a great area where people all got along.  I was generally healthy.  I had a great business that was growing and student who I really enjoyed teaching.

Less than a month later I learned of my father's cancer.  A month after that I had Gabbi literally cut away from me in some of the most horrible days of my life- putting a huge, unscalable wall between me and the rest of the world- inclusing and sometimes especially my husband.  I lost friends because apparently it was harder for them to learn to deal with grieving friends than for us to learn to "get over it".  I have had a far too close for comfort brush with breast cancer.  I've spent so much time in and out of hospitals and the doctors offices for headaches and depression that I am pretty sure the secretaries know me not only by name but also by social ID number.  My beliefs have been run through hell and back again.  Ok, maybe not back again yet.  My city is being taken over by zealots who believe that they are "above nature" and that it is normal to find females so enticing that even 7 year old's need to be spat on to cover up rather than keeping their own sick "nature" in check (ok, I did say I would avoid that topic but it snuck back in.  Back to the point at hand.)  It is only in the last few weeks I feel like there is any light at the end of the tunnel and "God" decides it is time for my marriage to hit the rock in a big way.

Granted I have recently self weaned (cold turkey style) myself off my loony toons medication, so I am sure that is making this all a whole lot worse, but there I was.  Sitting there looking up at this wall.  I miss my friends.  I miss my family.  I miss my life.  But most of all I miss the me from last year.  Crying.  Hugging the only great thing left in my life so tightly she is reminding me I need to let her breath.  Realizing that on this ZOT Chanukah, on this night where I am supposed to be remembering that God cares for me specially, that I am separate, that I am "above the natural order" of things and in his hands alone.  At a time of year where I am supposed to be filled with a light that should bring me to rededicate and reconsecrate my life to God and Judaism and holiness.  By going to Jerusalem on this, the "brightest" day on the calendar, I was left to feel more alone and in the dark than ever.

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