07 December, 2010

Love and Marriage: It's Not Just For Straight Maccabees Anymore!

Hanukah is this week and Jews across the world are trying to bring light in to a world that is so often filled with darkness. The Maccabees, a group of zealous Jews some 2100-years ago, fought and won the right to practice their religious traditions and live in the way their hearts desired. In recognition of that great achievement, the story of long-lasting oil was born to help reflect the importance of dedication to a cause of religious freedom and the pursuit of justice.

The Kedushat Levi, a Hasidic commentary on the Torah, asks the question, "What is Hanukah? . . . They only found one flask of oil which contained only enough [to light the menorah] for one day. And a miracle happened that they lit from the flask for eight days. The next year the sages established eight days to praise and thank God. Why did the sages establish the holiday for eight days? If there was already enough oil in the flask to last one day, the miracle was only seven days long. The real miracle of Hanukah was that there were two forms of joy. So, although the miracle [of the oil] was only seven days long, the sages added an additional day to commemorate the second reason for rejoicing [namely, the recognition that the miracle is a reflection of God’s presence in the world].”

An interesting argument, right? To say that the real miracle of Hanukah is our recognition of God giving us the miracle – of our understanding of God’s presence in the world, is pretty bold. Yet it is true and it helps us to continually find new meanings for this wonderful holiday season.

For me this year, Hanukah has been wrapped up in the marriage equality debate happening in California’s 9th Circuit Court. After two years of the darkness of oppression and bigotry it seems as though we are on the cusp of the first Federal Court decision to recognize the sanctity of all relationships. I watched the oral arguments on CSPAN intently and I am hopeful for an outcome that would fulfill our country’s promise of acceptance and equality. To put it in ancient words; I believe that a great miracle will also happen here. I believe that, much like the Maccabees of old, that the court will soon grant the religious freedom of our generation; to allow people to marry their beloveds and to allow religious denominations and clergy to marry same-gender couples and to have those marriages recognized as equal and valid.

In this time of great darkness, we light candles to bring light back in to the world. They are candles of love, truth, faith and justice. They are stories of partnerships and families. As we approach the end of Hanukah and reach that 8th candle which celebrates the true miracle of Hanukah, I hold the teaching of the Kedushat Levi in my heart. The real miracle of Hanukah is our recognition of God’s presence here at this very moment. It is the recognition that God willing, one day soon, we will be able to stand with pride and tell our children, “One day a great miracle happened HERE!” Love and Marriage: It’s Not Just For Straight Maccabees Anymore!

I wish all of you a joyous Hanukah and holiday season.

Hag Urim Same'ah (A happy and light-filled holiday season),

Rabbi James

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