As Chanukah approaches: more light

The lights of Chanukah.

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

In a few days we’ll cross through the doorway of the winter solstice. The day after the days start getting just the tiniest bit longer, we’ll kindle the first light of Chanukah.

I recently read an article by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg in the Washington Post titled Hanukkah Calls Jews to Light the Darkness. This Year, We Might Need It Even More. Rabbi Ruttenberg reminds us that the sages of the Talmud instituted the practice of kindling a lamp for Chanukah — what we now commonly call a Hanukkah menorah or chanukiyah. Talmud teaches that the lamp must be placed where it is visible from the outside, to “publicize the miracle” of our people’s survival.

Rabbi Ruttenberg notes also that the Talmud teaches that we are not obligated to “publicize the miracle” in times of danger. If it wouldn’t be safe to light our chanukiyot where people can see us, then we should prioritize our own safety. But how do we know if we’re living in a dangerous time? Recent polls show that an increasing number of Jews avoid certain places, events, or situations for fear of being attacked for being Jewish. Violence against synagogues is on the rise. Even our little rural shul has upgraded our security system. What does this mean for us, spiritually, as Chanukah approaches?

Rabbi Ruttenberg writes:

Jews who are scared have a right to be. The harm we have suffered these past few years is real. The danger to us today and tomorrow is real.

And yet. Maybe we still need all the light we can get… When we can, when we are allowed to, we need to show up and shine bright. As the writer Bear Bergman put it, “We should, in sorrow and in resistance, increase the light. When the heart is dark, when the mood is dark, all we want is a little sanctified light. We want it to sputter and catch, and lift our hearts up as it does.”

Are American Jews able to bring such light? Even now? Even in our fear, our grief, our legitimate concerns? Might we be able to put our lamps, both literal and proverbial, out where everyone can see them, to offer out the light we have and to receive the radiance that others might be able to offer us?

(Read the whole piece here: Hanukkah Calls Jews to Light the Darkness. This Year, We Might Need It Even More.)

I love Rabbi Ruttenberg’s teaching about letting our light shine. I share her sense that although recent harms to our communities are painfully real, we can still let our light shine. Not only that: we can draw our own spiritual strength from letting our light shine, and from the togetherness and allyship we can experience when we let our light shine.

At Hebrew school this week I asked our students what they think the miracle of Chanukah is. One said, the miracle is that we won against the Greco-Syrian army. Another said, the miracle is that we got to stay Jewish. A third said, the miracle is that now we get presents! After harvesting their answers, I shared my own: maybe the miracle is the leap of faith it took to kindle the lamp in rededicating the Temple, even though there wasn’t enough oil. Someone took that leap of faith. Someone hoped for the best, and acted out of that hope.

For me, that’s the holiday’s real miracle: and it’s a miracle that keeps on being miraculous. Because we can follow in those footsteps. We can take a leap of faith. We can hope for the best — for our little Jewish community in Northern Berkshire; for the wider Jewish community around our nation and around the world; for our national civil life; for our precious, irreplaceable planet — and we can act out of that hope. May our hope and our faith shine like light in the darkness for all who need that light… including us.

I hope to see you on Friday at our Cuba Kabbalat Shabbat (6pm), on Sunday at the city menorah lighting in downtown North Adams (5:00pm — not 5:30 as I mistakenly first said), and next Friday at our Shabbat Chanukah Potluck and Celebration (5:30pm). (Please RSVP for that last one so we know how many potatoes to peel.) Here’s to more light.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

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