Every year, around Chanukah, Jews in synagogues worldwide read the heart-wrenching story of Joseph and his brothers. While not immediately apparent, the festival and the Torah readings that accompany it have much in common. Chanukah, although we may neglect to mention it to our children, is a holiday that commemorates a Jewish civil war. The stories of this season challenge us: How do we deal with conflict among ourselves? Where do we draw the boundaries around our communities, and how do we defend them?
We have all become familiar with the tactics of bigots who distort our religious beliefs or make up horrible lies to advance their hatred. Fortunately, most people in our pluralistic society recognize and reject these tactics.
But how would we respond to a skeptic who points to the morally troubling verse, “When...the Lord your God delivers them to you and you defeat them, you must utterly doom them to destruction: grant them no terms and give them no quarter” (Deut. 7:1-2)?
This week I was honored to deliver the Cape Town, South Africa, community-wide keynote address for Yom Yerushalayim. Hundreds gathered together in a powerful celebration of the liberation of Jerusalem 45 years ago (28th of Iyar 1967). I was reminded of the power of Jerusalem to unite the Jewish people.
It is beautiful how much emphasis there is on Shabbat and holiday celebration in American Orthodoxy. However, the celebration of the values of health and exercise are sorely lacking in the community. Parents often do not stress health and exercise for their children, and day schools fall short on creating rigorous health programs. Happily, religious celebration need not compromise our commitment to health.