The story is told of a young man who was going to the county fair one day with a pig under one arm and a chicken under the other arm and a basket on his head. He came to a crossroads and didn’t know which way to turn. While he stood there deciding, a beautiful young woman approached him, heading in the same direction.
“Please, ma’am,” the lad said, “I’m on the way to the county fair. Can you tell me which way to go?”
“Yes,” she replied. “I’m on my way there, too. We’ll go right down this way about a mile, turn left about a mile and a half, then another right for about a mile, and we’re right there.”
He said, “Wait a minute . . . down here, turn left and then right? Couldn’t we save a lot of time by walking through these woods?”
“Sure, we could,” she replied. “But I couldn’t walk through those woods with you. Why . . . you might try to kiss me!”
“Listen,” the young man said, “How could I possibly kiss you with a pig under one arm, a chicken under the other arm, and a basket on my head?”
“Well, you could put that chicken on the ground, turn the basket upside down over the chicken, and I could hold that little bitty ole pig.”
Nothing like a leading statement . . .
Believe it or not, this story reminds me of Chanukah.
Every Jewish person is — or should be — on a road of increasing Jewish identity, practice, and commitment. Many times, however, we do not know in which direction to turn. We arrive at a crossroads and are just not sure which path to take. Along comes Chanukah. In a sense, the holiday romantically seduces us into Jewish observance.
Chanukah is certainly one of the easiest Jewish holidays to celebrate and observe. Chanukah involves no prohibitions or restrictions on our activity; it does not even make great demands on our time. The only Chanukah ritual is the lighting of the Chanukah candles (or oil lamps) — a simple, meaningful — even romantic — act of Jewish identity.
And of course, the traditional Chanukah food is potato latkes. Who doesn’t love latkes?
Merely by kindling the Chanukah lights and pausing a moment or two to consider their significance, we can be attracted to the message of Judaism. The Chanukah candles remind us that miracles do occur — not only in ancient times, but even today. Yet, as the Talmudic Rabbis taught, we cannot sit on our hands and wait for miracles to happen. “We do not rely on miracles,” they declared. Instead, we must be active participants with God in accomplishing our goals — whether they be personal, Jewish communal, or universal. The Maccabees realized that Judaism is to be lived, and instead of accepting the fate that political forces in the form of the Syrian army placed upon them, they fought back, and, with God’s help, they were successful.
The light of the Chanukah candles should encourage us to recall the heroic struggle of the Maccabees, as they combatted the ancient equivalent of anti-Semitism and battled to allow the Jews to worship Judaism as they wanted. As all of us know, the battle for Jewish freedom of worship continues to this day, as such Jewish practices as circumcision and kosher slaughter of animals are being challenged in several countries in Europe and in certain communities right here in the United States.
Light represents knowledge. The Chanukah flames should also remind us of how supremely Judaism values education, and should inspire us to continue our own adult learning.
Light also represents freedom, and not just religious freedom. The Chanukah candles should inspire us to work for the liberation of all who are oppressed, to “proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof.” (Leviticus 25:10).
This Chanukah, allow yourself to be embraced by the romance which is Judaism. Light the Chanukah lights, and feel the power and uplift of the message they convey.
Chag Chanukah sameach! Happy Chanukah!
Rabbi Ronald Androphy
East Meadow Jewish Center