Monday, June 24, 2024 -
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Bring your own light into the world!

CHANUKAH IS a holiday with many names. Some call it the Festival of Lights, while others refer to it as the Feast of Rededication or the Holiday of Miracles. To add to the confusion, there is absolutely no consensus as to its proper spelling, so you will find everything from Hanukka to Khanukkah, unless you stick with the Hebrew!

Perhaps the multiplicity of spellings reflects a basic fact about the holiday: that is has multiple meanings and varied significance.

The historical version of Chanukah, recorded in the Book of Maccabees, chronicles that in 168 BCE, the Syrian King Antiochus desecrated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and issued decrees prohibiting rosh chodesh, circumcision and Shabbat observance.

Mattathias the High Priest, along with his five, hardy Maccabean sons and a small group of Jewish insurgents, rose up and fought for three years against the Syrian army. On the 25th of Kislev, the Jews restored the Holy Temple and rededicated it to G-d.

We learn from this version that through acts of defiance and resistance, the Jewish people can overcome oppression and live with dignity as Jews.

Another version of Chanukah focuses on the internal strife between Jews as they struggled to define what practices were acceptable for Jews living within a foreign culture. The concept of Jews disagreeing as to what being a Jew means is not new. In the first few centuries BCE, Hellenism and its social, economic and political influences encouraged many Jews to compromise and abandon Jewish rituals and practices.

Some Jews attended the gymnasium and participated in nude sporting events, in which circumcision was unaccetable. The Maccabean fight was not just against non-Jewish oppression, but against highly assimilated Jews whose conduct threatened the continued existence of the Jewish people.

A FEW hundred years later, the Talmudic rabbis saw different lessons in Chanukah.

They don’t even mention the Maccabees or assimilation. They focused on faith in G-d as the key to Jewish survival. We are taught that “a great miracle happened there” when a small crude of oil lasted for eight days until more was found to keep the Temple’s Menorah lit.

The eight candles we light on our menorah remind us that we have survived over time because of our faith in G-d’s saving power.

The significance of light itself is yet another aspect of the Chanukah story. At the darkest and often bleakest time of the calendar year, Jews come together with family and friends, to bring light, hope and joy into their homes. For eight consecutive nights, we add an additional candle, increasing our ability to fight against winter’s darkness.

It is written in Proverbs 20:27 that “the human spirit is G-d’s candle.” Each of us has the capacity to bring light and goodness, joy and compassion, into the world. Through our thoughts, actions and relationships, we can illuminate others even in the darkest of times.

The shamash is the special candle on the menorah that ignites the other candles and is traditionally elevated over the other eight.

This year when you light the shamash, imagine for a moment that you have the power to become “G-d’s candle.”

What would it mean to light up the world around you with hope and possibilities?

Your efforts don’t have to be a time consuming or expensive.

Consider these eight small efforts that can make a world of difference:

• Show respect for others’ ideas, time and values, even when you disagree.

• Admit when you are wrong.

• Laugh at yourself, especially when things get crazy.

• Avoid harmful speech and gossip.

• Be authentic in your feelings and relationships.

• Donate food, clothing, time or money to organizations in need.

• Visit a friend who is lonely or sick.

• Look for a blessing in your life every single day and be grateful for it!

Each night as you watch the candles glow, remember that you have the power to bring light, dignity and justice into the world.


Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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IJN Columnist | Reflections

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