Tonight we’ll enter into Chanukah. Many cultures and traditions feature a festival of lights at this time of year; Chanukah is ours.
There are a lot of different stories we can tell about Chanukah. One story is about resisting tyranny, and clinging to our right to worship God as we choose. Another story is about resisting assimilation — and also about the shadow side of that resistance, the divisive violence which can occur when a group of zealots thinks everyone else has assimilated too much. A third story is about light in the darkness, and about taking a leap of faith, and about miracles. Maybe you will not be surprised to learn that the third story — the one about light, and faith, and miracles — is the one which speaks most to me.
These are dark days in more ways than one. On a literal level, our days are brief at this season and this latitude, and I know that I will breathe a sigh of relief once we reach the winter solstice this weekend and the days start getting longer bit by bit. But on a more metaphysical level, there’s a lot of darkness in the world. Injustice and discrimination, systemic racism, recent revelations about torture in this country — not to mention the personal dark nights of the soul which can arise because of depression, or the loss of a job, or an illness. Sometimes the world may seem too dark to bear.
Chanukah comes to remind us that there is always light in the darkness. Not only that, but the light is ours to kindle. When we make the choice to give our hearts to hope instead of despair, we kindle light in the darkness. When we make the choice to build a better world instead of allowing the petty tyrannies of injustice to triumph, we kindle light in the darkness. Bringing light to dark places is within our power, every day.
I love the miracle of Chanukah because it is so small. Passover reminds us of a huge miracle, the parting of the Sea of Reeds. Shavuot reminds us of a huge miracle, the revelation of Torah at Sinai. But Chanukah’s miracle is tiny. It’s human-sized. It lies in people choosing to have faith, and to kindle the light representing God’s presence even though they didn’t think they had the resources to keep it burning.
We all have moments of fearing that we may not have the internal resources to keep the light burning — the light of justice, the light of compassion and kindness, the light of awareness. Chanukah comes to remind us that what we have is enough; that what we are is enough.
And Chanukah comes to remind us that the miracle of bringing light into the world requires us as well as God. We have to make the conscious decision to kindle the light, to ignite our hearts, to be light-bearers in the world even if we fear we aren’t up to the task. Once we take that first step, the Holy One of Blessing will spread and magnify and sustain that light.
May your Chanukah be sweet and filled with light.
Blessings to all,
ps: if you’re looking for some good reading about Chanukah, I recommend the following excellent posts:
- The dreidl: a simple toy – or is it? by Rabbi Marcia Prager (the dean of the ALEPH rabbinic program)
- A Split in the Jewish Soul: Hanukkah Reconsidered by Abigail Pogrebin
- Chanukah Human Menorah at Meaningful Life