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12/03/2013 12:21:47 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

A number of years ago, I remember Rabbi Robinson calling me during a pretty tough time in my life and saying that he hoped this Hanukkah would bring a little more light into my life. It was a simple, sweet gesture, but it stuck with me; it was helpful, one might say, illuminating.

Mai Hanukkah, what is Hanukkah? The Rabbis of the Talmud ask. At first glance this story seems strange—wouldn’t they know the meaning of Hanukkah?  Why ask the question?

It is interesting to note the story of Hanukkah-the war and the fight for religious freedom—is not found in either the Torah or the rest of the Hebrew Bible.  The revolt against Assyria is recorded in The Book of Maccabees, but that book, while recognized as part of the Catholic Canon, did not make it into the Jewish Canon.  The ancient Sages knew the story (they quote from it and other Apocryphal works), nevertheless, they chose not to include it in their narrative:  Why?  No one knows for sure, but it appears that they found the historical record troubling.  In fact, the Hasmonian Dynasty that followed the revolt was short-lived, violent and corrupt, ending with the rise of Roman hegemony in the area.  Assuming they were aware of the historical record, we can make a guess at why they ask the question, “What is the meaning of Hanukkah?”  They ask the question because they were searching for a meaning that transcended what actually happened.  That is where the story of the miracle of lights enters the picture.

Hands_Of_LightThe Hanukkah story, the story of the miracle of the oil that was only to last a day, but miraculously shed light for 8 days, is the ancient Sages’ answer to the question Mai Hanukkah? What is Hanukkah?  For the ancient Sages, the transcendent, timeless, holy message of Hanukkah was the miracle of the lights, not the victory on the battlefield.  Ever wary of war, the Rabbis of old rejected the glorification of bloodshed for the message of the miracle of the oil.  And, whether one believes in miracles or not, most everyone can relate to the symbol of that miracle, the Hanukkiah (Hanukkah Menorah).  The Hanukkiah is all about light and its power to illuminate the darkness in our lives, our communities and our world.

Do you need a little more light in your life? Worried about the state of the world?  Struggling at home, or at work?

This year as we light our Hanukkiot (Hanukkah Menorahs), let’s pray for transformative, healing light; light dispensing the darkness in our lives, and the world around us.

Or chadash al tzion tahir, v’nizkeh chulanu m’herah l’oroh.

May a new light shine upon Zion and may we all share in its radiance…

Mon, August 10 2020 20 Av 5780