Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!
This morning I’d like to tell you about a people who fought off their oppressors to gain freedom after a lengthy struggle, only to finally emerge victorious but battered. When they won, one of the first major events that happened was an important miracle, unlike anything they had seen before. They returned to their main temple and listened to their spiritual leader – then they cleaned up the place that that had been hit hardest by the occupation.
Of you’ve guessed what I’m talking about. No, it’s not the Maccabees and the Hanukkah story.
It’s “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”
My mom introduced me to “Star Trek” when I was seven years old, with “The Next Generation,” and I’ve loved it ever since. How much do I love it? Everyone knows that Tribbles are giant fur balls that eat everything, breed and annoy Klingons. But did you know that the Klingon armada obliterated the Tribble home world? Or that even shape-shifting aliens, called Changelings are easily wooed by those furry creatures. If you’ve never seen a Tribble, I brought one in.
Star Trek DS9 and the Hanukkah story have a lot of similarities. For example: they both have villains that oppress a people, resistance fighters who opposed them, and in both cases the resistance wins and that victory is followed by a miracle. In the case of Star Trek, that miracle is the arrival of the emissary of the prophets and the discovery of the celestial temple, the home of the Bajoran gods.
As with Hanukkah, the weak defeated the mighty. A small Shakaar resistance cell, which
included Kira Nerys, a Judah Maccabee – like figure if there ever was one, did whatever it took to get rid of the Cardassians, who wanted to destroy their way of life – and actually did destroy it. When the war was won, they were able to restore some of their ancient glory. They did this in the same that Jews rebuild communities today – with the help of the Federation.
One of the ancient practices that they brought back was a month-long fast called the Time of Cleansing, in which they cleansed themselves of sins in a way very similar to Yom Kippur. Their services, held every day, included special prayers to the prophets, asking for forgiveness.
They even have rabbis, called Vedeks, who lead the services, meditate and study the visions of the prophets and their interpretations. People come to the Vedeks to ask advice or seek blessings. They do not have any dietary laws, as they often had no food and had to eat whatever they could find.
However, they have something like bar or bat mitzvah. As children, they begin to wear special earrings that contain the crest of their family. They are passed down from generation to generation.
And to mourn the death of a loved one, they even have something like a yahrzeit candle, called duranja.
Of course there has to be a villain to this story. In this case, his name is not Antiochus, but Gul Dukat. He was the head of the occupation during its final years. Like Korach, who battled Moses in the wilderness and was swallowed up by the earth, Dukat eventually met his end when he was thrust into a giant pit of flames.
As you can see, the faith of the Bajorans is truly what holds them together especially during the long occupation. Without their faith, they would have given up a long time ago, and their culture would have been lost. As Kira said, “That’s the thing about faith. If you don’t have it you can’t understand it. And if you do, no explanation is necessary.”
I feel the same way about being a Jew. As I become a bat mitzvah, I hope that I will be as secure in my faith as Kira is in hers. One way that I can do that is through service to others. For my mitzvah project, I did a series of bake sales to raise money and awareness for Heifer International. Heifer International is an organization that makes families that can not support themselves self-sufficient, by giving the families animals, like cows, that they then take a product from, such as milk, and the family uses some to feed themselves, and they sell the rest. When the animals have babies, the family has to give some of the offspring to another family that needs them. The new family is taught how to take care of the animals, and they promise to pass on the gift to another person.
I hope you can see how fitting it is for me to support an organization that works to end hunger, when my portion is about how Joseph prevented starvation during a famine. And how did that all happen? It all began with Pharaoh’s dreams about skinny cows and fat cows. It all begins with heifers, but heifer International doesn’t just do cows. It also provides families with goats, sheep, chickens, llamas, alpacas, honeybees, water buffalos, ducks, rabbits, geese, and, if I could say it in a synagogue, pigs.
Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Sarah Lederman on Mikketz
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