This Sunday evening, December 22, Jews worldwide will be celebrating the first of the eight days of Chanukah, by kindling their Menorahs, playing the dreidel, and eating delicious donuts and latkes.
While Chanukah also celebrates the miraculous victory of the few yet righteous Maccabees over the many yet wicked Greeks, the kindling of our Menorahs commemorates the miracle of the Menorah’s olive oil burning for eight days instead of just one day.
The story is well known. When the Maccabees came to rededicate the Temple in the year 164 B.C.E., they found a single cruse of oil still intact. With that single cruse of oil, they lit the Temple’s grand menorah. The oil was sufficient for only one day, yet, miraculously, it burned for eight days. This is why Chanukah is celebrated for eight days.
But why do we focus only on the miracle of the Menorah? Why is the military victory almost ignored in our Chanukah celebration (with the exception of its mention in the special prayer of “V’al Hanissim” which is added in our daily ‘Amidah’ and ‘Grace After The Meal’ prayers)?
Perhaps, the reason is rooted in the centrality of light in Judaism. Indeed, ever since the first day of creation when G-d uttered the words “let there be light,” Judaism has been obsessed with spreading G-d’s light to our world. Thus it is no coincidence that Judaism has chosen to, yet again, focus on the miracle of the Chanukah lights over the military miracle. For these lights embody our vocation and our very raison d’etre.
And so, as we gather together to light our Chanukah Menorahs, from this coming Sunday evening, December 22, until (and including) Sunday evening, December 29, I humbly submit to you eight very brief yet eternal life-lessons that we may draw from our shining Chanukah-lights, which will hopefully help us connect us and re-dedicate us to who we are, and we were born to be:
1. Our Chanukah candles are unfazed by darkness and any other opposing force. Instead of focusing on the darkness that they are fighting against, they are focused on the Divine light that they are fighting for. Indeed, the only way to overcome darkness fully is by lighting the lights of our souls, one light at a time, one Mitzvah at a time.
2. Our Chanukah candles are only “bodies of wax.” They only become true candles, when they kindle their wicks with fire. The same can be said about human beings. We are only bodies, of flesh and blood, until we kindle our spiritual wicks and bring light to a person in need, and healing to a broken spirit.
3. Our Chanukah candles must sacrifice their wax in order to continue to shine bright. Indeed, light is produced by self-sacrifice. It is not enough to talk the talk. We must also walk the walk, give of ourselves, and invest all of our resources in order to create light and make a positive and lasting change in our part of the world.
4. Our Chanukah candles are proud of who they are and what they are called to do. They have no second-thoughts, third-thoughts, and four-thoughts. They stand tall, with conviction and determination, and are unintimidated by any challenge along the way. And so must we.
5. Our Chanukah candles may produce a small light. But that small light dispels a lot of darkness. We too may say to ourselves that, in the face of the world’s darkness, our light is too small, and that the Mitzvahs we desire to do are insignificant. But our Chanukah candles prove that our small lights too can triumph and dispel much darkness.
6. Our Chanukah candles unite the past, present, and future. And while they remind us of the miracle of Chanukah some two thousand years ago, they also illuminate our lives in the present, and teach us and our future generations invaluable lessons on our imperative duty to shine bright and far. We too ought to be deeply rooted in our past. Yet, we must also focus on illuminating the present, and ensuring that our light and the light of our Divine values permeate our children and shine on into the future.
7. Our Chanukah candles do not feel threatened by other lights. Quite the opposite, they feel bolstered and empowered by the lights that join them. Unfortunately, the same can’t always be said about human beacons of light, who are filled with insecurity and jealousy when faced with other people who also strive to bring light to humanity. Yet we ought to remember that when lights join together, our personal lights are not diminished; rather, they are increased. They are not dimmed; rather, they shine brighter than ever.
8. Our Chanukah candles continue to live on, long after they are gone. Although light may be physically extinguished, its spiritual impact of warmth and love forever remains in the lives of the people it illuminated. That is the power of light. The same applies to people of light. Although they may pass on, they continue to live on in the hearts of the people they have touched, and most importantly, in their actions. In the words of the Talmud (Berachot 18a): “The righteous, in their death, are called living.” And so, will you, and your light, also live forever?