by Rabbi Leonard Cohen
(AJNews) – Each week, one of the Spiritual leaders from congregations in the Calgary and Edmonton Jewish communities will be elevating the Alberta Jewish Schmooze with a Dvar Torah. This week the Dvar is by Rabbi Leonard Cohen, from Calgary’s Kehilat Shalom Congregation.
The Sages of old were troubled by the military aspects of the holiday of Hanukkah. Surely it was unseemly, they felt, to celebrate a Jewish guerrilla army victory in a semi-Civil War. Hence the miracle of Hanukkah has been connected not to war and bloodshed, but to the rededication of the Temple – and the celebrated vial of oil that lasted eight days.
This is not to say that the Jewish religion is pacifist and rejects warfare. We are meant to take assertive and if necessary military stands to defend ourselves, our land and our people. The Torah and Talmud are replete with laws governing conduct in wartime. There is no disconnect between the G-d of goodness and “ado·nai tzvaot”, the G-d of armies.
It says in Kohelet Rabbah, “Those who are merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful.” We as Jews come out powerfully and forcefully in favour of human rights, and in favour of that which we believe is consistent with G-d’s message and values.
While we accept war, we do not go out of our way to celebrate it. In Mishlei (Proverbs) 24:17, it states “binfol oyvecha al tismach” – do not rejoice in the downfall of your enemies. As Jews, our sensitivity to humanity, inspired by G-d, is meant to shine through at all times, even during the extremes of war. Hence, we observe with pride the remarkable efforts of the Israeli army, the military of our Jewish nation, to protect not only Israeli but enemy civilian life.
While we respect the G-dly spark even in the souls of enemies, nonetheless, we express gratitude to Hashem for enabling us to achieve important military and political aims. It is proper and acceptable to appreciate the successes of Israel in protecting the Jewish people and its interests. Most importantly, we continue to pray for shalom – meaning both peace and wholeness – while expressing thankfulness to Hashem for protection of the land and people of Israel.
Perhaps that is the underlying message of Hanukkah. The notion of “rededicating our house” means that we take stock of what we have, and take active steps to preserve and grow that which is truly important. Hanukkah offers us a joyful time to celebrate with our families and loved ones, our community, and fellow Jews the world over. For this, and for so many other small miracles in our time, like the Maccabees of old, we truly thank G-d for enabling us to find inspiration in the light of the Menorah candles.
Rabbi Leonard Cohen is the spiritual leader of Kehilat Shalom, a conservative egalitarian congregation in Calgary.