Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hanukkah Day 2 - Acknowledging Greed and Encouraging Generosity

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

In the Talmud (Shabbat 21b), the rabbis discuss how to light the hanukkiah - the Hanukkah candelabrum. The famous sages Hillel and Shammai disagree as to whether we should start with eight candles and day by day diminish the number we light until on the last day of Hanukkah there is only one candle (plus the shamash, or helper candle) burning, which is the view of Shammai, or, if we should start with one (plus the shamash) and add a new candle each night until we have eight (a total of nine with the shamash) burning on the last night.

We all know that Hillel won that argument (along with a lot of others). His point was -- and it is a point that is reiterated in other places in the Talmud -- that we should only increase in holiness, and never decrease. In our efforts this Hanukkah season to follow Rebbe Nachman's dictum (see Hanukkah Day 1) and to ignite our souls, we are kindling an additional spiritual "candle" each night, with the hope that the increasing number of "lights" will help us increase the holiness in our lives.

Hanukkah Day 1 - Dispelling Fear and Finding Courage
Hanukkah Day 2 - Acknowledging Greed and Encouraging Generosity

If you are anything like me, you probably don't normally think of yourself as greedy. In fact, I don't like to think that I am ever greedy. It feels really uncomfortable. I want to say, "No, that's not me! I'm not like the king in Rumplestiltskin. I'm not greedy."

But if I am going to be honest as I light the hanukkiah on this second night of Hanukkah, then I need to acknowledge the cultural / societal / national greed of which I am a part, in addition to whatever personal tendencies I may have at times to be greedy. 

Here are examples of questions we can ask ourselves and facts we must face:
  • How do I respond when there is "free" food or a generous spread of goodies available?
  • How often have I said, "I need...." when what I really mean is "I want"?
  • Humanity uses 2/3 of the fertile land available on Earth.
  • The United States has about 4% of the world's population and emits about 25% of the total global greenhouse gases.
What causes us to feel and to believe that we need so much? 

Fear may be one factor, fear of being hungry, or cold, or lonely, fear of being different, fear of humiliation or embarrassment, fear of feeling or being inadequate, and so many other fears. Some of our "need" may come from external social and cultural pressures of which we have no conscious awareness. Some of it may come from a simple biological desire to have our physical needs met. Some may come from insecurity..., and so on.

Whatever the source of our greed, we can only combat it if we acknowledge that it exists. It takes humility to acknowledge such an unpleasant emotion.

Once acknowledged, if we want to light a candle to dispel the darkness of greed from our lives, we can encourage ourselves to be both humble and generous. In the very beginning of the Torah, Genesis 1:3, we read, "Let there be light." With each deed of generosity, we bring light into our hearts and into the world. Think about it for a moment -- how different would your day look if you examined every deed and every act from the point of view of greed versus generosity? It is a lot to ask of ourselves, but on the second night of Hanukkah, as we light the second candle, the candle of generosity, let us try, for these next 24 hours, to pay attention to just how greedy or how generous we are. And then, let us ask for G!d's help to shift the balance in our lives further away from greed and closer to generosity, to other human beings, to other living things, to the Earth, to the future, to the Universe, and to all that we cannot understand.

Chag Urim Sameach - Happy Hanukkah.


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