The first words we see God speaking in Genesis are “Let there be light.”
All life and intellect are directly tied to this element of light, which sustains all men and nature.
It is not surprising, therefore, that nearly every religion and culture celebrates the winter solstice focusing in some way on the return of light as the days gradually lengthen and the promise of life is renewed.
So, with all these celebrations, what makes Chanukah extraordinary? It lifts us above the natural and purely observable.
Having defeated the Assyrians, our ancestors cleansed the defiled temple. The rekindled lights miraculously burned eight days on a single day’s supply of oil. The lighted menorah served to reaffirm God’s Holy presence and support.
Although the world was created for all mankind, only the Jewish people were tasked with being a light unto the nations, to use their lives, intellect and resources to demonstrate God’s purpose for humankind. So, while the winter solstice is the earliest harbinger of spring and natural rebirth, may the lights of Chanukah reignite a burning passion to use all our resources to bring the world to God.
Bonnie Berk is co-chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition