According to many surveys, Hanukah is one of the two most celebrated Jewish holidays. It has a certain splendor that is impossible to ignore. But aside from the presents and lights, a core focus of Hanukah is the celebration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees. Indeed, the Hebrew word Hanukah means dedication. I have always found it fascinating that there is no Jewish holiday or celebration to remember the construction of the original Temple by King David, only one that celebrates its rededication some 800 years later. Indeed, the very name Hanukah highlights this rededication. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for education (hinukh) also comes from the same Hebrew root for Hanukah. What the two ideas have in common – dedication and education – is that they are cyclical processes. If a Temple’s usage ceases, or if you ever halt the lifelong journey of learning, both the Temple and you are no longer serving your intended roles. This is why we only celebrate the continuance of use of the Temple, and not its original construction. Likewise, a day without learning, or giving back to the Jewish community, or bettering the world, causes us to lose our core identities; it is equivalent of discontinuing using ourselves. Hanukah teaches us only through striving to continually grow and to continually learn can we live up to our true potentials and to our core identities.
Russ Shulkes is the executive director and campus chaplain for Hillels of Georgia.