Baal Shem Tov, or Besht — the founder of Chasidism —
Chanukah songs that need some change:
1) Mi Yimalel is such a popular Chanukah song that it's hard to imagine droppping it, but there are few other songs that hack away at the roots of religion so effectively. Look at the lyrics and see how the message of Mi Yimalel is essentially the opposite of Judaism. Here are the lyrics:
Here's the line being quoted and betrayed: Mi yimalel g'vurot Adonai, yashmi'a kol t'hilato – "Who would tell the mighty deeds of YHVH, who could cause all God's praise to be heard?"(Psalms 106:2)
In Judaism, rabbinic and Biblical, it is God who is moshi'a savior, fodeh rescuer, and go'el redeemer. People can help out, but no army, no hero, not even Moses, is called "moshi`a". As we read (on Chanukah davka!), Lo b'chayil v'lo b'khoach ki im b'ruchi amar Adonai Tsva'ot – "Not by might and not by power but by my Spirit says YHVH of hosts!" (Zech. 4:6)
The exhortation "Shma" is also indicative of religious antipathy here: the unity that this Shma prepares us to declare is the unity of Am Yisrael, the people, which will "unite, arise and redeem itself" – rather than the unity of God. Mi Yimalel embodies the dangerous hubris that characterized the anti-religious branch of Zionism.
The message of Mi Yimalel is that we find salvation only through our own strength and power, through the State and through arms. That attitude is the downfall not only of Judaism, but also of a just or democratic State, and it is the foundation of tyranny.
2) This is an easy fix. In Maoz Tzur, the line that begins L'eit takhin matbe'ach mitzar ham'nabe'ach... actually means: "At the designated time when You (God) will prepare the slaughter of the barking enemies. I will then complete the dedication of the altar with song".
When the Jewish people were in a time of powerlessness, a fantasy of slaughter might have held some comfort, but in a time of power, such thoughts can (and do) turn into actual violence. But Rabbi Hertz (of Pentateuch fame) rewrote the line to say, "At the destined time when you will *stop* any slaughter and the barking enemies. I will then complete the dedication..." by changing a single word.
The line in Hebrew in the Hertz siddur became, L'eit tashbit matbe'ach mitzar ham'nabe'ach... – changin takhin to tashbit, from the same root as Shabbat.
3) Ba'nu Choshekh isn't just against Nature, it also promulgates an idea of light vs. dark that has had horrifying racial repercussion throughout history. Here's the translation of the song:
We have come to banish darkness, in our hands light and fire. Each one of us is a little light, but all of us (together) are a mighty light. Get away darkness, begone black, flee before the light!
The idea that somehow we are trying to defeat the dark on Chanukah is downright foolish. Darkness is essential to the warp and weave of this world, as much as light. In fact, the Chanukah candles are not kosher if their flames come together "like a torch" – they must be separated by darkness in order to fulfill the mitzvah. That is not an idle or meaningless rule. We are planting seeds of light with the small flames of our lit wicks, seeds that grow in the soil of darkness.
Here are alternative lyrics that appreciate darkness, from the website Nashimahut:
You're right of course. But you know, the song (Mi Yimalel) was written in the middle of the 20th Century, by Menashe Rabina, a Communist, a Zionist and a music critic, who was fiercely anti-Nazi. Like others of his generation, he was fed up with what looked like Jewish Passivity in the face of Anti-semitism, and that's what fed the lyric of this song. Frustration is a legitimate emotion.
Response: Completely understandable for its time. But it may not be right for ours. -- David
Posted by: Simcha Daniel at December 12, 2007 2:51 PM
So, God's plan is for us to sit in Ghettos and be slaughtered? I don't think so. There are also numerous examples of God telling the Jewish people to fight for themselves. In order to 'find salvation' some of us would prefer to survive by defending ourselves, not dying passively at the hands of our enemies.
Response: So, the only options are to go like lambs to the slaughter or to boast that we are the source of redemption and not God? What about fighting (when necessary), and making peace when possible, and recognizing that triumph is ultimately in God's hands, not our own? I am always fascinated by reactions like this. If you come back to this page Michael, I hope you'll read this response. -- David
Posted by: Michael Freed at November 24, 2008 2:23 PM
The idea that Israel can be the source of Israel's redemption is not anti-Judaic. Ta'anim 64a says "If Israel would repent one day, immediately the Son of David would come. If Israel observed one Sabbath properly, immediately the Son of David would come." What is Messiah if not redemption?
Response: Israel in this teaching refers to the people, not the state. Above I am refering to the state. -- David
Posted by: Vincent at December 16, 2008 12:53 AM
Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006