HANUKKA MENORAHS in Jerusalem 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘Gmar hatima tova’ is a greeting associated with the High Holy Days. After being
inscribed in the Book of Life on Rosh Hashana, we wish each other a gmar hatima
tova – may you be completely sealed for the best. Traditionally this blessing is
offered from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur. The blessing may also be offered
until the final day of Succot, Hoshana Raba, when there is one last opportunity
to add a note to the Book of Life and be sealed for the best in the coming
The ever-optimistic hassidic tradition recognized one further
opportunity: One of the early hassidic masters, Rabbi Aharon of Zhitomir (d.
1816), wrote that Hoshana Raba continues until Hanukka. Strange as it may
sound, there is justification for offering the “gmar hatima tova” wish right
Speaking at a gathering to commemorate the anniversary
of his father-in-law’s death on Hanukka 1951, Rabbi Ya’acov Friedman (1878-1957)
cited this hassidic tradition.
Friedman – often known by the title of his
work Oholei Ya’acov – was a scion of the regal Ruzhin dynasty and served as
leader of the Husiatyn Hassidim in Tel Aviv during the formative years of the
State of Israel. He was born in Bohush, Romania, married in Husiatyn, Galicia,
and with the outbreak of the Great War, he fled with his family to Vienna,
In Vienna, Rabbi Ya’acov was active in Zionist circles. In 1937,
together with his father-in-law – the incumbent leader of the Husiatyn Hassidim
– and the rest of the family, he moved to Mandatory Palestine. The family
settled in the first Jewish city, Tel Aviv. To avoid the humidity and heat, the
family would move to Jerusalem for the summer months, but the center of the
Husiatyn Hassidim was established in Tel Aviv. To this day, the building on
Bialik Street remains standing as the bastion of the Husiatyn legacy
Rabbi Ya’acov’s father-in-law and predecessor, Rabbi Yisrael of
Husiatyn (1858-1949), was a respected leader, known for his quiet, sincere and
noble manner. Contemporaries would later recall the figure of Rabbi Yisrael on
his daily walks through the streets of Tel Aviv. Prior to his death, he was
asked for his opinion on the fledgling State of Israel. “It is at’halta degeula
the beginning of the redemption,” he responded without hesitation.
gathering in his father-in-law’s memory, Rabbi Ya’acov commented: “Today we need
a gmar hatima tova in two senses of the blessing. First, in the classic
hassidic sense: Even though we have reached Hanukka, it is not too late to be
sealed for good life this year.
“Second, on the national level: We have
already merited ‘the beginning of the redemption.’ The establishment of the
State of Israel reflects a physical redemption for our people. The ultimate
goal, alas, remains: A physical redemption accompanied by spiritual
salvation. For this, too, we wish gmar hatima tova – may what was begun
be completed for the best.”
Rabbi Ya’acov continued that this blessing
was eminently appropriate for the festival of Hanukka: In hassidic tradition,
the light of the Hanukka candles reflects the light of ultimate good that is
reserved for the End of Days.
We could add a further dimension to the
festival’s connection with the beginning of the redemption as reflected by the
establishment of the state: Since 1949, the State of Israel’s official emblem
has been the seven-branched menorah.
So for Hanukka, we offer the
blessing of gmar hatima tova: May we be sealed for a rain-filled good year, and
may what was started with the establishment of a national homeland be completed
for the best.The writer is on the faculty of Pardes Institute of Jewish
Studies and is a rabbi in Tzur Hadassah.