How important are the Chanukah lights to the challenge of our times? Among the laws of Chanukah we find that, “wicks and oils that may not be used on the Shabbat may be used for Chanukah.” Reb Mendel of Kotzl claimed neshamot (ner Hashem nishmat adam) that may resist the beauty and sacredness of Shabbat might be moved by the observance of Chanukah.
Even during the time of the Hasmoneans, when Jews were alienated and removed from Jewish observance, they were moved by Judah Maccabee’s call to join the struggle for Jewish independence, sovereignty and pride.
Another law regarding the lighting of the Chanukah menorah gets closer to the sod of Chanukah observance. If a Jew is unable to light or participate in the lighting of the menorah but merely sees a menorah belonging to someone else, he is permitted to recite two of the blessings recited when kindling the lights – She’asa nissim l’avoteinu (“Who performed miracles for our forefathers”) and Shehecheyanu (the blessing of gratitude for reaching a significant time or season.)
Our gratitude, more than our fear, must define this holiday. Despite the challenges we face, let us take faith from the mighty struggles of our forebears. Let us dedicate the time, resources and energy to bringing our young people back. Let us help them identify with Jewish destiny and history. How? By teaching and learning from them. By listening to them. By showing, through our compassion, sensitivity and care, what it means to truly care for another person rather than an avatar.
Our task is overwhelming but, as Rabbi Tarfon taught, ours is not to complete the task… nor is it to turn away from it. With each simple step, with each modest candle, we will go forward.
We celebrate Chanukah because of the purification of a small can of oil; the triumph of light over darkness. Even after full independence was attained, our festival remained a commemoration of the miracle of lights, not of political supremacy. The purpose of the Hasmonean uprising was not military power; it was light of Torah, mitzvot, commitments, authentic Jewish education, vibrant and dynamic Jewish homes, synagogues and schools.
Only children who learn primary Jewish sources, who study Jewish history, tradition and heritage and who appreciate their ancestors and identify with their language and customs can be expected to be dedicated – even if they merely see the lighted menorah!
The Kedushat Levi concludes that the Talmud’s statement regarding the law of Chanukah, hadlakah osah mitzvah – the actual lighting of the fire is the essence of the mitzvah – has as its ultimate goal to create fire, excitement, enthusiasm and yearning to create light. Jewish education – exciting and creative Jewish education – is the spark to ignite that contagious fire. But study must lead to more than intellectual understanding, or even spiritual insight. Our study must lead to a desire to cleave to our people.
Only light conquers darkness.
It is time we rededicate ourselves to the real purpose of Chanukah. The lights of Chanukah were meant to banish our inner darkness. It is time we emerge from the shadows of the virtual world and illuminate our real world. This year, do your share to let the light in.