Hannukah – Sharing our Inner Light with One Another
It is ironic that Hannukah is better known for the Talmudic story of the cruise of oil than for the stunning Jewish victory over the powerful Hellenistic Greeks. Equally stunning, though, was that those Jews who wanted to maintain their distinctiveness won the day over Jewish Hellenists who were content to assimilate into Greek culture and society.
Perhaps this is why, according to the Talmud, the REAL miracle of Hannukah was that after the Temple purified by the Hasmonians, that single cruise of oil that would normally last one day miraculously managed to keep the menorah lit for a full eight days.
That’s the story of the Jewish people!
Logic dictates that we should have run out of fuel and disappeared centuries ago, but we are still here! And especially during this time of pandemic, when more Jews are willing to forego their connection to synagogues and the Jewish community, the task of keeping the Jewish flame burning commands new urgency.
Hanukkah is known as Hag Ha-Urim, the Festival of Light. Light is a major theme in Judaism. We kindle Shabbat lights every Friday night to bring the beauty of Shabbat into our homes. Our rabbis teach us Torah orah, the Torah is light, and in order for a synagogue sanctuary to be complete, it must have a ner tamid burning at all times. And while we Jews also have a special obligation to be an or lagoyim, a light unto the other nations, for Judaism to survive we must also be an or layhudim, namely, a light unto our fellow Jews and a light unto ourselves.
When we reach out to our fellow congregants and demonstrate our concern for them in times of joy and sadness, we help build and strengthen our community. When we connect virtually to pray and study together (even while bemoaning the fact that we cannot be together in person) we spiritually nourish ourselves and our community. And when we continue to support our shuls and communal infrastructure with our time and resources, we help ensure that our kehillah, community, will be there for us and for future generations.
As we kindle the Hannukah lights, may their message penetrate our hearts so that we may always be considered a source of light to our synagogues, our community, and to one another.
Mark Zimmerman is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom.