Thursday, February 2, 2012

Yahrzeit Candle on the Birthday?

Tanta Golda,
I read your blog about lighting Yahrzeit candles (Oct ’10) and I was wondering: can I light a candle to honor my deceased father’s birthday?
Dutiful Daughter
Dearest Dutiful,
What a lovely question! To answer let us first look at why we light Yahrzeit candles in the first place. It is believed that the candle represents the soul of the departed which is never extinguished in our hearts. Like the flame of a candle, a human life is fragile and should be nourished and cherished. As it says in Proverbs, "The soul of man is the candle of G-d."
In other words, we light the candles so that every time we see the flame we are reminded of our loved ones. There is no prohibition that Tanta Golda can find against lighting a candle in addition to the traditional times (anniversary of their passing, erev Yom Kippur, and the conclusion of the three pilgrimage holidays: Sukkot, Pesach, & Shavuot.) I can see nothing wrong with wanting to honor and remember your father on his birthday by lighting a Yahrzeit candle. Yahrzeit candles 
May their memories be a blessing - Tanta G

Where did the Star of David Come From?

Dear Tanta Golda,
A friend of mine asked me a question the other day and I was embarrassed to realize I didn’t know the answer! What does the Star of David represent, and why is it on the Israeli flag?
Hoping to Save Face
Dear Hoping,
Don’t be so hard on yourself my dear, that’s what Jewish mothers are for!
The star of David, or Magen David you may be surprised to learn, has no religious significance. It isn’t even mentioned in rabbinic literature until the Middle Ages. It is  however, an ancient symbol that was used by a number of cultures including Christians and Muslims. In the Middle East and North Africa the symbol of intertwined equilateral triangles is thought to be a symbol of good luck.
Some Kabbalists, who are always looking for hidden meaning in things, have proffered that the six points represent God’s presence everywhere - in the six cardinal directions: up, down, north, south, east, and west. (The same reason we shake the luluv in these directions during Sukkot.) They also believe the two triangles themselves symbolize humanity’s dual nature - good and evil. Think of it as the Jewish ying-yang.
Now of course other scholars have other ideas: that the upward triangle points towards God, and the downward towards the real world. Some say that the intertwining of the triangles show the inseparability of the Jewish people. Others point to the twelve sides as representing the twelve tribes of Israel. It’s amazing the symbolism one can find when one is searching for meaning!
There is a midrash, a Jewish Aesop fable of sorts, that when King David was a teen he fought King Nimrod. On his shield were two interlocking triangles. During the heat of the battle these fused together reinforcing the shield, enabling him to win the day. Such a lovely visual of strength! 
According to Tanta Golda’s sources, sometime in the 17th century the Magen David started to become a way to distinguish the Jewish part of town, and began to be used to denote synagogues, much the way a cross indicates a church.
On the less pleasant side of our discussion, Hitler was not the first to employ the use of the star as a means to single out Jews. During the lovely Middle Ages it was not uncommon that Jews had to wear some kind of identifying badge. Often stars, but I should point out, not always.
When the Israeli flag was designed there was some controversy because of its recent negative association with the Holocaust. And, there are those who feel that the star is a trifle, not really a Jewish symbol, and therefore shouldn’t be on the flag!
Bubbelah, let me end on a lighter note by sharing a little bit of Magen David trivia:
-In the 1950’s Heathrow airport had six runways that were laid out… you guessed it, in the pattern of the Magen David, each a little over a mile long!
-The largest Star of David is….a building on the Smokey Hills Weapons Range in Kansas. Or so Wikipedia claims.
-And finally, in 2007 an Israeli flag was unfurled near Masada, breaking the World’s Record as the largest flag ever recorded!    

Much love as always - Tanta Golda