Monday, December 28, 2009

The Little Things (The 10th of Tevet)

Chanuka in Britain is an entirely different experience to Israel. In Israel, it is a pleasure to walk in the streets just as it's getting dark to see all the chanukiot. Large, small, some with candles, most with golden olive oil burning brightly outside people's homes; there is spiritual warmth in the streets that unless you have experienced it, is impossible to describe.

In chutz LaAretz, anyone who places their Chanukia in the window feels that they are facing an impossible battle that they will surely lose. Their little chanukia with its tiny candles, against the mass of festive lights emanating from the front of every non-Jewish house.

Sometimes however, it is the little things that matter most.

Take this little half a day of fast we just had yesterday for instance: The 10th of Tevet. You could hardly notice it. Ok, so you'd have to get up at 5:00am to eat breakfast and drink before the fast began at 5:18am. However it was all over by 5:04pm. Hardly worth mentioning is it? In fact for the majority of Jews, they would have never heard of the fast, let alone observed it.

The 10th of Tevet is a Jewish national fast day, established 2,500 years ago. It is the time we commemorate the beginning of the siege of Yerushalayim that led up to the eventual destruction of The holy Temple.

It is also the yartzeit of Ezra HaSofer who brought thousands of assimilated Jews back to Israel and also brought them back to Judaism.

It also commemorates the Greeks who forced the Rabbanim to translate our Torah into Greek which was eventually corrupted and intentionally distorted into what the Notzrim call the "old testament". They use the term "old" to signify that Hashem's Torah as given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai has been superseded by their "new testament" (sic) making the Notzrim the new "chosen people". This book has been used as an excuse to persecute and murder Jews for 2,000 years.

In Israel, the Rabbanut have decided that it is an appropriate day to observe the yartzeit for all those who perished in the Shoah and were never identified. It is a day to remember those Jews who otherwise would not be remembered.

In fact, the 10th of Tevet does not commemorate any great tragedy. Nothing was destroyed on that day. It does however commemorate the first, perhaps small actions that led up to so many terrible things.

It’s the small things that we often overlook that turn out to be important.

There is a story, dating back some 200 years of a Jew who left his family and went to seek his fortune in the city. Just like his family, he also left his Judaism behind. He was successful and became a wealthy businessman with a large house and servants. His butler, although obedient on the outside, was aware that his master was a Jew and secretly hated him. One evening he decided that he'd simply had enough and prepared his master a juicy steak to which he added enough poison to kill an elephant. The butler entered the dining room as usual and placed the steak in front of his Jewish master, smiling inside. The Jew looked at the juicy steak and was just about to tuck in when he realised that tonight was the first night of Chanuka - the festival of lights. He had no intention of lighting a chanukia but somehow, without understanding why, he had continued, even after all these years to observe the silly insignificant minhag of his family of eating a milky meal in the evening*. He decided not to eat that steak and asked his butler for some cheese instead. When his master refused the steak, the butler panicked thinking that the master knew of his plan. He rushed from the room screaming about filthy Jews and their conspiracies. The Jew, in a state of confusion, dropped the steak on the floor which was eagerly gobbled up by his dog. Then the Jew saw his dog let out a howl and rive in agony as it frothed at the mouth and died a painful death. From this the Jew made his way back to his family and his Judaism.

It’s sometimes the small things that end up being so important.

In my post about Jewish foods (Fried Fish Balls), I made fun of the little kosher department at Tesco's (sandwiched between the seafood and pork section). Actually thinking back I remember that every time I stood in front of that narrow shelf space of kosher products, more often than not, someone would react to my presence. At the minimum there would be a totally secular Jew who, seeing an observant Jew standing there proudly (that's me!), dressed in black and white, big kippa on his head with tzitzis hanging down the outside of his trousers, would look at me and give me a knowing nod or even a small smile. Then, when I walk past them in the next isle I'll notice that they've taken that little gold Magan David from under their shirt or blouse and placed it outside for me to notice. Sometimes the greatest act of kiruv you can do is to simply smile back at them; A little thing that to them might mean so much.

* Minhag of eating cheese on Chanuka. "Halachos of Chanukah" By Rabbi Shimon D. Eider

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