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Can a Menorah be covered with a tree?

Wednesday, 1 December, 2010 - 11:32 pm

This week one of our preschool parents asked me if it was ok for her family to have a tree this year. She explained that her son's friends enthuse about their trees at home, sharing vivid details of its decorations and the mountains of gifts that pile up underneath. Naturally, her son asked Mom and Dad if they too could bring a tree home. "Instead of a tree," I replied, "why don't you try a beautiful menorah which you can light for eight nights in a row, enjoying games of dreidel after and handing out chanukah gelt and gifts?"

In the end she decided to compromise by decorating a menorah with branches to make it resemble a tree.
 
The exchange left me somewhat confused. Chanukah is a holiday filled with meaning (as are all Jewish holidays), a celebration of light over darkness, of purity over evil and the conquest of goodness over immorality. Why on earth would someone wish to mix a practically meaningless tree into this significant holiday? More to the point, how can we hope to implant our children with a love for Judaism and an appreciation for its values if we confuse them with conflicting practices?
 
An man once firmly told a rabbi that he does not believe in G-d and is thus a confirmed atheist. The rabbi asked him, "Have you ever studied the Torah?" "No." he replied. "Mishna?" Again, negative. "Talmud? Prophets?" When all the replies came out similar, the rabbi told the man, "You, my friend, are no atheist. You are an ignoramus!"
 
While hopefully not atheists, many of us suffer from a lack of knowledge. The word "Chanukah" shares its root with the word "lechanech"- to educate.  The beauty of Chanukah lies in the opportunity it grants us to learn about our religion. The Macabees' victory was not just physical, but also spiritual. The Greeks forbade the study of Torah and the performance of Mitzvot. In fact, the game of dreidel was invented by the Jewish kids of the time who would whip the toys out to conceal their books of Torah when the Greek soldiers would approach. The miracle of Chanukah is the triumph of the Jewish soul, and we perpetuate that victory today in our children’s lives by instilling them with Jewish pride.
 
So although we may live in a society that celebrates trees and revels in superficial gift giving ceremonies, we as Jews need to stand apart and delve into the wonders of our own faith. That said, a tree and menorah cannot go side by side. Only a menorah will do.
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