Friday, December 15, 2006
Hanukkah, the Holiday of Lights
This evening, December 15, is the beginning of the holiday of Hanukkah and the opportunity it gives us to celebrate Jewish identity and religious freedom. The context of the story of the Maccabees, 165 to160 B.C.E. (before the common era), is not unlike our own. In those days, there were a variety of ideas about what constituted Jewish identity. There were differing political alignments to support and advocate for those viewpoints. There was an intense debate about the advisability of embracing the life of the wider Hellenistic society versus strengthening the fabric of Jewish life and community. Through the millennia, we've always been challenged to find the right balance between living a rich and vibrant Jewish life and assimilating into the culture and customs of what has usually been a majority Christian or Muslim society. Whatever our religious tradition, we are often challenged to find the right spiritual balance in our lives.
Historically, Hanukkah reminds us of the difficult period of the Greek Syrian occupation of Jerusalem and the desecration of the holy Temple. Eventually, the guerilla army of the Maccabee family overthrew the Greek Syrian forces. The Temple was rededicated by kindling the Menorah candelabrum with a single cruse of oil which tradition relates burned for eight days, when it usually lasted for only one day. From this experience comes faith in the possibility of spiritual renewal even in our darkest and most difficult hours.
Hanukkah reminds us that God's light is always present within us and throughout the world of creation, a source of hope and strength, living at the core of our being and within the soul of the universe. This is reinforced by a beautiful reminder of how we should live our lives from the Biblical prophet Zechariah which we read in the synagogue on this holiday of lights, Not by might and not by power, but with God's spirit.
During the eight days of Hanukkah we focus on light. As the daylight of December grows shorter with each passing day, Hanukkah arrives just before the new moon and the winter solstice. During these shortest days of the year, we light candles beginning with one light and proceeding to eight, adding one candle each night. We follow the principle of ma'alin bakodesh, adding holiness each night of Hanukkah. As we kindle the Menorah/candelabrum each evening, we embody the name of this holiday of lights, Hanukkah, as dedication, as we rededicate ourselves to our Jewish heritage
I've always found a particular resonance of strength and inspiration in the lighting of the first day's oil by the Maccabees, fresh from the horrors and losses of war. They knew that they had only one cruse of oil and that it could not last for eight days but they lit it anyway. At a time of chaos and scarcity they turned toward the holy, bringing the sustaining light of tradition and hope into the Temple, through the community and into their lives.
Each of us is called upon to increase the light, for ourselves and for our precious and fragile world. No matter how improbable the outcome, we are to act with compassion for justice and for peace. We cannot excuse inaction by claiming the possible ineffectiveness of any one action. As Rabbi Tarfon taught in the Talmud some two millennia ago, It is not our responsibility to complete the work, but it is our responsibility to do our part.
May the lights of all our diverse traditions help ignite the passion and dedication we need to sustain ourselves and repair the world. May our common practice of kindling light during this dark time of year strengthen our faith and determination that we can increase light, bring hope and create paths to peace.
© 2006 The Carlisle Mosquito