Rabbi Nachi Friedman’s Chanukah Message for 2023

Rabbi Nachi Friedman’s Chanukah Message for 2023

For our annual Chanukah issue, we asked members of our community to share their responses.

Rabbi Nachi Friedman
Rabbi Nachi Friedman

Souvenirs of Chanuka: Is the menorah the keychain of the war?

Why do people buy souvenirs? Do they actually need small snow globes, magnets or shot glasses or is there another explanation for this behavior? Most times there is little connection between the souvenir and the event. It appears memories are complicated and require further analysis.

When we take a look at our Chanuka celebrations, we find that our rituals focus on two distinct parts of the Chanuka story. Ironically, neither make reference to the other: In our prayer Al Hanisim, (recited in the silent shemonei esrei and birkat hamazon) we mention and focus on the military triumph of Chanuka. We describe the underdog victory of the Chashmonaim as they defeated the strong and mighty Greeks. If we just had that text, we would have concluded that the miracle of Chanuka was the war as we don’t even mention the oil at all! However, when the Talmud discusses the holiday, it JUST discusses the miracle of the oil and doesn’t mention the war. If you ask any child what the miracle of Chanuka is, they will undoubtedly answer that the oil burned for eight days. Begging the question, what is the true miracle of Chanuka. What are we actually celebrating?

In a similar light, when one listens to pro-Israel news and reports from family/friends in Israel, one of two types of news stories emerge: 1) Reports of military battles from the IDF as they continue their mission into Gaza and 2) stories from soldiers accounting divine intervention. When we relay and talk about the war amongst ourselves and with our children, what stories should we be focusing on? Is the military’s success the true miracles or the many of the small miracles we are hearing about (Book of Tehilim blocking a bullet from killing an IDF soldier, an IDF soldier’s rifle that was deemed unusable miraculously working to fight off terrorist, the hundreds of Yeshiva students tying Tzitzis for soldiers kvelling to wear the spiritual garment, etc.). There is both a military narrative and a religious surge occurring during this war, is one more important than the other?

Souvenirs have a special and unique ability to both symbolize and transcend the memories and emotions of places, moments, and events. Souvenirs are physical reminders that enable someone to “suspend in time” their experiences” (Siregar et al., 2017). Souvenirs help activate emotional triggers of memories despite being disconnected to the actual event (Ex. Shot glasses as souvenirs for non-alcoholic vacations).

Perhaps we can suggest that the miracle of the oil serves as the souvenir for the military triumph of Chanuka. Not only does it remind us of the miracle, but it emphasizes and allows us to tap into the psyche of the divine intervention that occurred many years ago. As we light our candle, we remind ourselves, relive the experience, and tap into the emotions of the time as a nation experiencing a miracle in front of their eyes.

When hearing stories in Israel, we can tap into a similar dynamic. On the one hand, this is a “typical” military mission where a strong army slowly disarms and conquers enemy land. However, as we read and hear stories about divine interventions/miracles in the battlefield, we can truly connect and appreciate G-d’s role in Israel. We should utilize these stories as symbols and emotional place holders as we retell the story of Israel’s current triumph in Israel.

In fact, as we light our 44 candles over Chanuka, may each candle serve as a souvenir for our day to day miracle of living a Jewish life. May our performance and adherence to Chanuka laws this year serve as a merit for continued success and divine intervention in Israel. Most of all, may our mitzvot serve as a merit for G-d’s protection of our brothers and sisters in Israel.

Rabbi Nachi Friedman is the Rabbi at Anshi Sfard in Morningside/Virginia Highlands and a therapist at JF&CS/ Torah Day School.

read more: