It feels like daily we hear about violence, bullets flying, innocent men, women, and children scurrying for safety amidst terror. The world can feel as if it is covered in darkness. It is not the first time we have felt this way as a citizen of this world, or as members of the Jewish people. On Sunday, and the following days, as we light the candles of Hanukkah, we must think of this light as a light of goodness that can pierce the darkness of this time, with hope that, just as the Jewish people overcame hatred and persecution, our world can overcome those who wish to dim our spirits with despicable acts. Each evening we add a light, because we need to increase our resolve to make our world better, increase our love and care for our fellow human beings, and increase our strength to live with liberty and justice.
The most important aspect of the Hanukkah menorah is for all to see the candles lit. Maimonides, the great Jewish scholar of the Middle Ages, wrote that Hanukkah “…should be commemorated to be days of happiness and praise [of God]. Candles should be lit in the evening at the entrance to the houses on each and every one of these eight nights to publicize and reveal the miracle.” For us, to publicize our celebration is to acknowledge that we, as American Jews, are free to observe our heritage without fear of persecution. The Hanukkah story is about a small group of Jews who defied the dominant culture and fought for their right to celebrate their nationhood. Our commemoration of this festival of lights, in freedom and love and happiness, is a gift, given to us by this great country of ours. For unlike our ancestors, who had to fight for the right to be Jews, we can freely enjoy and participate in our inherited heritage.
This year, as you and your family look at the Hanukkah menorah each night, adding another light of joy for eight straight nights, consider how lucky we all are to be able to continue this tradition in freedom. Celebrate the uniqueness of our people and the rituals that bind us, and give thanks for the ability to perform these customs, with joy, laughter, song, and love.
Happy Hanukkah from our Temple Emanuel Family to yours!