“The human spirit is the light of God” (Proverbs20:27),. These words inspire an insight shared in the Rabbinic Assembly Rabbi’s Manual: Within each of us God implants a divine spark. Each of us has the obligation to tend this spark and fan it into a flame that will light up one’s own life and the lives of others.
A lit candle can be snuffed out, or it can burn out, or it can kindle other candles. When the flame is passed on to others, the flame will continue to burn long after the original candle has been extinguished.
The lights of Chanukah celebrate stories of the ages, events of which movies are (and no date will be) made. It’s a surprising holiday in that its popularity has little connection with its importance. The fun, song-filled, gift-sharing, food-filling, game playing, highly decorated holiday we enjoy so much invites us to warm ourselves in the cold of winter amidst the other Festivals of Light, particularly Christmas.
Possibly overlooked in such cocooning is Chanukah’s light of continuity, of the miracle of withstanding overwhelming conditions of voluntary and enforced assimilation. Possibly overlooked is the political nature of Chanukah and sensibilities on the part of the rabbis that shaped the holiday to reduce controversy and maximize return to God and awe of the wonders and miracles that happen both on grand scales and more commonly and significantly, in the course of daily life. Possibly overlooked is the irony that Chanukah’s message is to honor the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks and those Jews at the time that had left the fold for the fun and games of the gymnasium and other Greek advancements in civilization. The lesson of Chanukah is to grow in your own strengths and gifts in learning to listen more openly and less judgmentally to someone else’s truth or point of view.
Possibly overlooked is that Chanukah is the holiday that made it possible that there would someday be Christmas. Had the Maccabees lost, who knows whether Judaism would have survived? While the candles we light commemorate a miracle of oil that burned long enough until more could be prepared, the candles that we light celebrate that and much more…and they are a replacement for a different kind of celebration that the rabbis of old quashed: the parade through the streets trumpeting the victory of the small over the mighty, of retaining one’s unique identity in a world where pressure grows to become something/someone else so you can fit in.
Whether you are at the Benicia candle lighting now held in memory of Meghan Campbell, an example of a candle that continues to burn in all the ways Meghan touched lives in the time she had, or in any other settings for the eight nights of Chanukah, with each candle lit, remind yourself that “the Human Spirit is the Light of God”…and ponder how you can and will share more of your light…keeping alive values you cherish, and, Jewishly, customs that have touched you.