From Thanksgiving through the end of the year we find ourselves immersed in the holiday season.
What part of it works for you? Is it real? Is it commercial hype? Is there a spirit of giving and caring that gives you hope?
And what about the theme of light that prevails in the various holidays celebrated in December? Is it glitter or is there some gold in their glow?
Chanukah offers a broad range of possibilities for how to access and engage the holiday season. With its proximity to Christmas, and their sharing the theme of light, Chanukah appears to be popular due to its commercialization as a gift giving counterpart to Christmas. Yet, more than any other Jewish holiday Chanukah accentuates the importance of pride in identity and strength of character through its vital message: live your Jewish values and traditions while respecting other religious traditions that share the light of justice and kindness and caring.
The light of Chanukah reflects the miraculous presence of God being with us in the ways we confront and overcome obstacles and difficult times. The Prophet we read during Chanukah, Zachariah sums it up: Not by brute force, nor by strength, but rather by My (God’s) Spirit.
While the light of the Menorah celebrates a miracle of oil, the larger miracle of Chanukah was and is the survival and continuity of a people, small in numbers, yet large in the glow of the light of God’s spirit and Presence. This Divine Light celebrates our staying alive and focused regardless of darkness that has inundated us through the ages, and particularly in our times.
Today we face the kinds of dangers the Chanukah story addresses: the threat of our people disappearing through assimilation, which was the case for half the population in the days of the Maccabees. Our heroes fought two foes: one, the Syrian branch of the Greek empire that was determined to extinguish the light of Judaism, and, two, the many Jews who were willing, if not eager, to disappear into the world of Greek culture. Assimilation today remains a critical threat, as are the modern enemies of Israel that threaten the Jewish state with destruction.
Yet another enemy we face, as do the other traditions that teach caring, kindness and respect for human rights and differences is the attack on truth and the diminishing of character of an America built on biblical principles of celebrating that all human beings are created in God’s Image and to be treated as such.
As in days of old, we need the light of Chanukah, even as its glow reflects us as that light. Every time we gather…to pray, to sing, to eat, to schmooze, to enjoy each other’s company … we keep the light burning bright. We need to harness the courage of the Maccabees to stand up to wrongful behavior and any diminishing of respect for human rights wherever that occurs, whether in the halls of government or in the actions of celebrities and those in authority who use their power to intimidate, dominate and violate those less powerful.
The miracle of Chanukah and its defining light serves to pinch us, even shake us, as the Shofar does on Rosh Hashanah, to remember how fortunate we are to be on life’s stage and that we not squander our blessings. Instead, we are to use them to bring more light into this world and to do our part to turn what can seem like overwhelming darkness in the direction of the Light and Blessing of Shalom.
I look forward to our gathering at CBI to share in the lighting of the candles and the singing of songs for the sixth night of Chanukah on Sunday, December 17, as we renew ourselves in the light of this holiday of “rededication” which is the meaning of “Chanukah”.