As we celebrate the final nights of Chanukah, we remember the miracle that the little bit of
oil kept spreading light, against all odds, even as the days passed. But I often think that the greater miracle is the courage it must have taken to have lit the oil in the first place. What kind of person would light the flame, needed for 8 days, with the almost certain knowledge that the oil they had wouldn’t be enough? What kind of person would commit to kindling light when darkness seemed certain to swallow up the light? But just as they had refused to give into the enemy that seemed impossible to defeat, the Maccabees also refused to give into hopelessness, and so they kindled the flame that we now commemorate every year.
Like the Maccabees, we also live in a world where the threats against us can seem overwhelming. My prayer for this sixth night of Chanukah is that we might have the courage not to give into our fears, and commit ourselves instead to spreading light despite that fear.
Chanukah is a holiday that celebrates religious freedom. It should remind us how much of our history as Jews is tied up with the rights of minorities. Jewish life in America has flourished because our country was built on a commitment to religious freedom. Sadly, though, some of the loudest voices in our society today would have us see our nation’s diversity as a threat, not a blessing. In particular, I’m proud that so many voices in our Jewish community – from the Reform Movement to organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – have condemned Donald Trump’s offensive and hateful remarks about Muslims. Tomorrow, Shabbat morning at Beth David, I hope you’ll join us to learn more about the refugee crisis with a special presentation from HIAS Pennsylvania at 9:30 am.
There is a recent tradition that dubs this evening, the 6th night of Chanukah, as Ner Shel Tzedakah, “the candle of righteousness” or “the candle of charity,” on which Jews are asked to give “gelt” – real money, not the chocolate kind! – to charity in place of or in addition to giving gifts to children or loved ones. Before Shabbat starts this evening, I’ll be donating tzedakah to some of my favorite organizations that help spread light and hope in this world, and when I light the menorah at services this evening, I’ll be dedicating this evening’s lighting to spreading light in the face of hate. Whether you’ll be lighting the menorah together with us at Beth David or in your home, I hope you’ll join me.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah!