The hardest chapter to write for my book on the Jewishness of Jesus was the one on resurrection. I tried to avoid it, but my editor insisted. Resurrection of the dead is not a topic we discuss much in synagogues.
In fact, many Jews and Christians today believe Jews have never believed in the resurrection of the dead. Yet, the Talmud says faith in resurrection is one of the three core ideas of Judaism. Look at chapter 37 of the Book of Ezekiel.
In it the Prophet Ezekiel envisions a valley full of dry bones. He speaks to the bones. He tells them God will breathe life into them. They will have skin and flesh and become a great army.
The bones symbolize the people of Israel, who will rise again and return to their land. The text is not purely a symbolic vision of rebirth. It is physical, with the spirit giving life to the bones of the dead. The text is traditionally read during the week of Passover.
While sometimes political correctness can rise to the level of foolishness, the words we use do matter. My book editor recently reminded me of this truth.
I had used the phrase “Southern leaders” in referring to political leaders of the Confederacy. My editor pointed out that Blacks in the South were Southerners as well.
To equate Confederate and Southern does an injustice to those African-American Southerners. I should, she suggested, refer to political leaders in the South as “White” or “Confederate” Southern leaders. Lesson learned.
How “Pharisee” Became an Insult
The Book of Psalms tells us “Number our days so we gain a heart of wisdom.” The Jewish sages took this verse literally. They instructed their communities to count the days between the holiday of Passover and festival of Pentecost.
We count the days by saying a blessing over each of them. This little-known tradition has its roots in the agricultural cycle.
The tribe of Levi is amongst the important and historically significant of the twelve. Only he and Judah have descendants among Jews today.
Spock's hand sign is based on the way the priests held their hands while blessing the people
Levi is the third son of Jacob and Leah. His name, according to the text, is derived from the Hebrew leviah, which means “he will join with her.” This is another expression of Leah’s longing for her husband Jacob to join with and love her.
How the Priests Were Chosen
Hanukkah began as a military holiday celebrating the capture and rededication of the Jerusalem Temple around 160 C.E. About 200 years later, however, the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. Some Jewish leaders of the period said Hanukkah should be abolished. Since the Temple was destroyed, why celebrate its rededication?
The answer lay in the most profound Jewish idea: hope. While the Temple was destroyed, hope was not.
Hope is not blind optimism. It is faithfulness, confidence, and vision, combined with a determination to act. Hope has sustained the Jewish people through countless experiences of persecution and exile. Hope is the conviction that what was once destroyed can be rebuilt.
Tonight let us praise the power of hope. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it, “The Jewish people kept hope alive, and hope kept the Jewish people alive.”
This evening begins the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Hanukkah is about the miracles God performed for the Israelites 2000 years ago. Miracles continue to surround us today.
Over the next eight days, we will learn about Hanukkah and grow in appreciation of the miracles of the past, present and future. If you want to learn more about Hanukkah and find some inspiration for the next week, subscribe to the blog or visit often!
Below is the first of eight short devotions.
Night #1: The Miracle of Courage
According to Jewish legend, the holiday began when the Jewish rebels regained the Temple from the control of King Antiochus. A tiny jar of oil was discovered. The oil burned for eight days, and this miracle became the basis of an eight-day holiday of rejoicing and remembering.
Yet, something is odd. The miracle was that a tiny amount of oil—enough, perhaps, for one night—lasted for eight.
If this is so, then Hanukkah should only last seven night. The first night was not really a miracle, since we began with enough oil for it. Why, then, do we celebrate for eight?
The Real Miracle
I love the answer given the late Rabbi David Hartman. The miracle of the first night was that the Maccabees (Jewish rebels) lit the lamp at all.
They were uncertain whether it would last the eight days needed to complete the purification and rededication the Temple. Yet, they took a leap of faith, trusting in God’s power and promise. That is a miracle we can embrace every day.