As Jewish parents and teachers of Judaism we set our light to shine as an example of all that is beautiful about Judaism. Still, in order to be a light to others, we must also be a light to ourselves. Being responsible for others is not to be irresponsible to the self. In times of danger, when there is a threat from the outside, we should keep the lights on our own table, surrounded securely by children and family who are willing to share in the light of Judaism.
For so many years, the threat we faced as Jews was clear. Our enemies were on the outside. By kindling the Chanukah lights and placing our menorot on the outside of our homes, we declared a victory over these enemies.
Judah Macabee’s enemy was clear. Can the same be said for our own?
Our modern world threatens us less with annihilation by violence and force than by the simple seductiveness of assimilation. Technology creates the illusion of intimacy while denying the truth of it; creates the illusion of communication while removing the need for personal trust and faith, thereby making a mockery of real communication.
Against such a wily threat, the lights of our menorot must not only shine outward but inward, into our homes and souls. The menorah must stand as a source of light to maintain and reinforce the stability of our greatest source of strength – the Jewish home and its Jewish family.
The mitzvah of lighting Chanukah lights is so important that, like the mitzvah of the four cups of wine at Pesach, halacha teaches that a Jew lacking funds to buy candles for Chanukah or wine for the sedorim must go out and beg, to literally “stretch out his hand” in order to fulfill these special mitzvot. Why? What is so important that it would make a needy Jew a beggar?
With other mitzvot, if a Jew has positive and proper intentions but lacks the means, the intention is enough. Not so for these two mitzvot. These two call for pirsumei nisa – public display and declaration. No matter what, action is commanded.
Unlike so many other festivals, when we celebrate the miracles brought about by the grace and mercy of God alone, Chanukah is a celebration of God’s grace and mercy coupled with the courage and bravery of the Hasmoneans.
The Temple was not redeemed by God’s grace. Rather, God graced the determination of those brave men and woman who actively fought the Hellenist desecration of the Temple and Jewish identity. The fight against assimilation, secularization, and ignorance can never be God’s alone. It is a fight that calls for “the work of our hands.”
So, too, the work of our own generation. We cannot be satisfied because the enrollment in yeshivot causes classrooms to burst at the seams; we cannot be satisfied when the power of the “Jewish vote” is sought by the powerful; we cannot be satisfied when town councils accede to construction of communal eruvin.
We cannot be so smug as to think these things alone constitute victory, not when our children are dropping out and falling by the wayside, not when a party on Shabbat is our children’s idea of the appropriate celebration of that glorious day.
There is so much work to be done.
When we succeed, as we did on Chanukah, we not only praise God with berachot, we also extol “the work of our hands.” All the more difficult when the enemy does not amass an army against us.
The Talmud teaches that the proper time for kindling the Chanukah lights is “when the sun begins to set.” The simple reading of this is that we light our Chanukah lights at the end of the Jewish day, at sundown. However, the remez understanding recognizes that it is precisely when the sun sets – and darkness gathers and fear and trembling set in – that candles need to be lit.
Intermarriage. Teens “falling away.” Internet culture. Diminished Jewish communal involvement and concern. This is the impending darkness we fear. It is precisely in response to such awesome and dark realities that more and more candles need to be lit. Beit Shamai advised that we begin with a big flame of eight candles so that we may burn through the contemporary scene of decay and Hellenism. But, as usual, Beit Hillel offered the more accepted perspective. We begin with just one small candle. With a single spark. From the one little spark, we work our way up, slowly and surely, to bigger and stronger lights – mosif veholech.
About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, author and lecturer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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