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 it conducive to your being in better spirits? 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 full range of possibilities in how you access and engage the holiday season. With its proximity to Christmas, and their sharing the theme of light, Chanukah can claim some of its popularity because of its commercialization, a gift giving counterpart to Christmas. Yet, Chanukah is “real” in its purpose and message. More than any other Jewish holiday it accentuates the importance of pride in identity and strength of character to retain your sense of being and purpose in a society and context that is very different in its intent and structure. Chanukah is real in its message to live your Jewish values and traditions and respect those of others that in their ways share the light of justice and kindness and caring in living theirs.
The light of Chanukah is the light of the miraculous presence of God being with us in how we confront and overcome obstacles and difficult times not by pushing and pulling and forcing things to happen and hurting ourselves and others in the process. 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/is the survival and continuity of a people, small in numbers, yet large in the glow of the light of God’s spirit, enabling it to stay alive and focused regardless of darkness that has surrounded it through the ages, and particularly in our times.
Today we face the same kinds of threats the Chanukah story addresses: the threat of our people disappearing through assimilation, true of as much as half the population in the days of the Maccabees who fought two enemies: the Syrian branch of the Greek empire that was determined to extinguish the light of Judaism, and the many Jews who were willing to disappear into the world of Greek culture. Assimilation today is again a critical threat, as are the modern enemies of Israel that would threaten Israel with destruction.
As in days of old, we need that light of Chanukah, and its glow would have us know that we are 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.
I look forward to all of us being at CBI in sharing the lighting of the candles for the first night of Chanukah on Tuesday, December 20 as we rededicate ourselves to the light of this holiday of “rededication”, which is what “Chanukah” means.
This is the holiday of joy for kids of all ages. It serves to remind us that each day offers another opportunity to bring light into the lives of others… that we use the energy of the holiday season not to excuse our lesser attention to such details during the rest of the year, but, instead, to energize us to heighten our focus in making each day, each holiday, each Shabbat, and each special anniversary, times that glow even brighter.
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, that we not squander our blessings and use them to bring more light into this world and do our part to turn darkness in the direction of Shalom.