William Hamilton
William Hamilton

Herzl’s response to anti-semitism and ours

Once there was an artist who also happened to be a Jew.  He was successful.  He had a family and many friends.  His Judaism was not very important to his enjoyment of a happy and fulfilling life.  Then he began to take note of a number of anti-Semitic incidents.  At first he thought it was a passing phenomenon.  But over time instead of fewer attacks there were more.  Although he wasn’t personally affected by any of the attacks, each time he read about one it pained him anew.

A quiet and gradual energy began to steer him toward his Judaism.  In better times he had felt alienated from his religion.  It made silly claims.  Its adherents had always appeared strange to him.  Judaism had been entirely unnecessary to living a good life.  But now he began to feel differently.  Then a realization crystalized within him.  The only way through the pain he was feeling was to return and begin to reclaim his Jewish roots.

His friends were puzzled.  How could taking hold of the cause for the malady become its remedy?  But he calmly persisted in renewing his interest and in deepening his connections.

He took special note of Hanukkah’s Menorah.  The custom of kindling one light with another light had been passed on through the ages.  Now he was taking on that custom of using the shamash, the servant light which lights the others, more personally.  Our friend, Theodore Herzl, pondered new ways to make the sturdy, middle shamash serve the lights that stretched out toward its left and right.

Herzl’s religious return stirred our People’s rebirth.  This week’s portion of Torah offers a single reference to the Hebrew word for light (or).  “The morning’s first light, they (Josephs brothers) were sent forth” (Gen. 44:3).

This Shabbat, Hanukkah coincides with the arrival of a new Hebrew Month and the coming week’s turn to the year 2020. May this signal a personal turning point within each of us.

Wherever we may stand in our faith commitments, may today’s dark times stir within us a recognition of how faith-warming the Hanukkah lights can be.  And may we come to personally know that which Herzl came to know. “No office is more blessed than that of a servant of light.”

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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