Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Increasing Our Holiness by Increasing the Light

The academies of Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel, two great Jewish authorities of the First century BCE, were once engaged in a debate about how to light the Hanukkah menorah.

The students of Shammai insisted that they should light eight lights on the first night, seven on the second night, and so on down to lighting one on the last night.

The students of Hillel argued in favor of starting with one light and lighting an additional one every night, concluding with eight on the final night.  And as with most instances of disagreement between these two academies, Hillel’s method won out.

The rationale was as clear as the olive oil used in the lighting the lamps.  One should increase the light each night, as with each subsequent evening ceremony we invite more light – and thus more sanctity – into our homes and into our world.  As we move forward in time, we increase the light and strengthen the sacred connection between and among members of the human race.

The miracle of the Maccabees’ military victory led to a rebirth of religious liberty for all inhabitants of the ancient land of Israel.  No longer did the Jews have to exist subservient to an occupying nation which had sought to eliminate Judaism.  The popular story of the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days inspired them to ascribe their accomplishments to God.

In our day as well, the struggle for religious freedom continues, in our country and all over the world.  Will we realize miracles in those efforts?  Will we be able to bring sanctity to those who suffer oppression from the many ‘masters’ who control the lives of others?

As with all things, it begins with us.  If we increase the holiness in our lives
  • by treating people in just and fair ways;
  • by eliminating gossip and slander from our speech;
  • by devoting ourselves to helping friends and family through difficult situations; and
  • by taking part in movements to bring repair to our world;
we too will move upward from one strength to a greater one, and we will increase the sanctity of the entire world.  We can, each day, dedicate ourselves to bringing more wholeness – and holiness – to humanity.

Happy Hanukkah!

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Death of John Kennedy: The Loss of a Dream

I have tried to be fairly objective about my feelings of today’s 50th anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy, and I was successful up until this morning.

“Important milestone.”  “Marking the day pays homage to a slain leader.”  “Sensitivity to a nation’s feelings and memories has its place.”  Yada-yada-yada.

By coincidence, that day was also a Friday.  When I rose today and listened to radio reporting that reviewed that day’s events, physically powerful feelings of loss began to wash over me.  I was eight years old 50 years ago, an eager and active third grader whose parents campaigned for Kennedy because of his idealism for the progressive spirit that he would bring to our nation.  This is how our nation's future was supposed to go.

In reality, it was not the assassination of a president that affected me, but more, it was the demise of the potential of a nation on the verge of realizing great strides in civil rights, sexual equality, and the drive toward a progressive future that was passionate and potent.

Those born after that date, or those whose awareness of those events had not yet blossomed, cannot easily identify with this feeling.  Someone who was only one year old at the time recently said to me that s/he could not understand the commotion that people are making over this fateful anniversary.  It’s difficult to explain this feeling of grief for the loss of a dream, but that is what it was.