Chanucah, the festival of lights, is, in our own day, mainly the commemoration of a spiritual event. Its historical roots, however, as set out in the Book of Maccabees, were the celebration of a great military victory over the Syrian-Greek overlords.
The Talmud's description concentrates on the laws of keeping the Chanucah lights burning (Masechet Shabbat 21b-24a).
Judaism is the most astonishing and daring religion the world has been blessed with. It defies all definitions and stands heads and shoulders above anything else I know. It is not just a faith, a sentiment or a ritual, but above all an intricate and immense exploration of what we might call the holy dimension of existence.
'Now is the winter of our discontent", proclaimed Shakespeare's Richard III. Our rabbis agreed. Moving from an intense period of festivals and fasts, packed with commandments, to the first month of the winter which has no festivals at all, they felt deprived. They called this period Marcheshvan or "the bitter month of Cheshvan".
There has been a good deal of speculation how the next Chief Rabbi might be appointed. It seems likely that consultation within the community will be considerably wider than on previous occasions and it has even been suggested that an election might feature as part of the process.
Sometimes not knowing what you cannot do is a dangerous thing, sometimes it is a blessing. The recent stories of families unable to bury and mourn their children - highlighted in the JC - tear at the heart strings and seem, at this perspective, unbelievably lacking in empathy.
This week, we come in from the cold. A midrash suggests that our time spent out of the house living in a temporary hut is a kind of divinely imposed exile. It is an opportunity for reflection before the final judgment which takes place tomorrow on the festival of Shemini Atzeret (Yalkut, Emor 753).
Many people are simply too busy for existential questions.
"The meaning of life? - I've half an hour to get the family dinner on the table!" "Meaning? I'll give you meaning! The lady next door's got chemo and needs a lift to the hospital." The hustle of everyday, caring for our neighbour: who has got time for philosophy?