Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Rock of Ages

“What’s a nice Chanukah song?’

Wanting to give fair time to our holiday in December the teacher had called me along with the few other Jewish students in her class to the side.

“Rock of Ages,” we announced without hesitation.

“Ah,” she smiled and began singing.

Rock of ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in Thee

We looked at her puzzled and one girl spoke up.

“That’s not a Chanukah song! This is how it goes.”

Rock of Ages let our song,
Praise thy saving power;
Thou amidst the raging foes,
Wast our shelt'rng tower.

Furious they assailed us,
But Thine arm availed us,
And Thy word broke their sword,
When our own strength failed us.

I’m not sure how well we understood the words then and I now know that they weren’t a very accurate translation of the Hebrew anthem. Be that as it may, our music teacher decided to include our version of Rock of Ages into the music assembly.

In the Torah portion to be read this week in synagogues all over the world we’ll recall how our forefather, Yaakov, began the exile of the Children of Israel with seventy souls.  However, the Hebrew text (Genesis, chapter 46, verse 8) reads that Yaakov is going down to Egypt, in the present tense. Our rabbis teach that this is so the Jewish people will always look at their stays in other lands as if they are just happening and temporary.  

How appropriate that we’ll have this lesson repeated right smack between our minor holiday of Chanukah and the Christians’ major holiday. For it is in December that Jews living outside the land of Israel realize that no matter how welcome their host country might make them feel, come December they are reminded that they are guests.

Many nations were happy to have Jews for guests for generations and then, sometimes suddenly, other times gradually, they became outsiders. Nowhere was this truer than in Germany.  Next week we’ll be marking the fast of the Tenth of Tevet. Traditionally marking the beginning of the siege by Nebuchadnezzar 2,500 years ago that led to the destruction of The Holy Temple in Jerusalem, mourning for the holy martyrs of the Holocaust has been incorporated into the day.

As Jews deal with December holiday music, decorations, parties, and gift exchanges it would be prudent for them to remember the lesson from this week’s Torah portion. Also it would be a good idea to look at an accurate translation of our Rock of Ages.
Not only does it praise G-d, it is also a prayer for the rebuilding of The Holy Temple. Five more verses follow recalling different persecutions the Jewish nation suffered up until the time of the Maccabees. The last verse includes a plea for full redemption.

May that day come soon. May we have no more martyrs. May the Tenth of Tevet change into a day of joy when we’ll once again be able to bring our Thanksgiving sacrifice to the rededicated alter in The Holy Temple. 

1 comment:

Batya Medad said...

Once visiting friends who had people over I didn't know, I also discovered that Christians have a totally different song called "Rock of Ages." It was rather confusing for me.