We are all aware that at this time of year there are fewer daylight hours in which to conduct our busy lives. As the days grow shorter, Judaism gives us a gift: the opportunity to make our lives glow brighter. That gift is the holiday Hanukkah, which this year begins on the evening of Dec. 12.
Lighting Hanukkah candles will increase the light in our homes, but this light is not meant to help us continue with our daily chores and busy lives. Light from our Hanukkah candles is meant to make us pause and is to be enjoyed. The light serves to remind us of God’s presence in our lives and of ancient miracles in seasons gone by.
In 167 BCE, Israel was under the control of the Seleucid dynasty and King Antiochus Epiphanes decided to force all the peoples under his rule to Hellenize. Certain Jewish rituals were outlawed, and a group of freedom fighters called the Maccabees fought against their oppressors.
The Hanukkah custom of lighting candles commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greek Army, and the subsequent miracle of rededicating the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the restoring the Temple menorah.
The miracle of Hanukkah is that only one vial of oil was found with just enough oil to illuminate the menorah for one day, and yet it lasted for eight full days. The Hanukkah lights remind us that in times of darkness, our ancestors had the courage to struggle for freedom. Theirs was a victory of the weak over the strong, the few over the many.
The blessings Jews recite each night when we light the candles in our Hanukkah menorahs remind us that God performed miracles for our ancestors, and the light of the candles reminds us of God’s presence. We often associate God’s presence with light. The command “let there be light,” found in the Book of Genesis is part of the process of creation.
In Judaism light is symbolic of our human potential, and in lighting our Hanukkah candles we are reminded that within each of us exists the ability to bring light, and therefore, God’s presence, into the world.
When we strike the match that lights our Hanukkah candles, we summon a holy light, a light that teaches us to walk in God’s ways. May the light of the Hanukkah candles re-ignite the light in each of our souls, and lead us to more acts of tzedakah, (charity) and g’milut chasadeem (loving kindness). In the darkness that sometimes surrounds us, and exists in our world today, may we remember we each have the potential, through our actions and our words, to light the souls of each and every person in our lives.
Rabbi Sandra Bellush is the spiritual leader of Temple Am Echad in Lynbrook.