DECEMBER 2009 - KISLEV / TEVET 5770
The most obvious symbol of Hanukkah is the Menorah (more correctly – the Chanukiyah) and the holiday is referred to as the Festival of Lights (Chag HaUrim). Yet Chanukah is essentially a celebration of a military victory– one that could not have been expected. After all, it was the small non-professional army of the Jews led by the Maccabees against the mighty Greek Empire that
triumphed. Judah theMaccabee is revered for his military prowess. So much so, a statue of him (they don’t actually know what he looked like) is at West Point. His innovative warfare tactics vanquished his mighty enemy. Yet the
Chanukkiyah and its light still stands out as the most obvious Chanukah symbol.
Perhaps it has to do with our fascination with light. Light lends itself to a myriad of interpretations. Light can supplant darkness and show us the right path. Light means education, culture and purposeful living. It has all the
metaphors you could think of. One, which the Rabbis loved to focus on, was the fact that the light of a lamp remains undimmed even if you use it to light dozens of wicks and flames. The candles continue to burn just as brightly and warmly as they did before they were used to light another candle. The Rabbis liken that to aMitzvah. When we give of ourselves to others we are not diminished, we do not really lose anything. We give Tzedakah, visit the sick, comfort mourners, study Torah or help make a Minyan we not only aren’t diminished – we are actually strengthened.
We feel stronger as a result of the Mitzvah we did. There was a great debate in the Talmud about how we should light the Chanukkiyah. The Academy of Shammai taught that we should start with eight and then diminish the light by one each
night. The Academy of Hillel taught that we begin with one candle (plus the Shamash) and we increase each night by one until all eight burn on the final night. Hillel’s argument obviously won out.Why? Because it is psychologically damaging
to see things as diminishing rather than expanding and growing. Shammai may have been more ‘scientifically’ correct in that the amount of oil must have diminished with each passing day. But Hillel was psychologically correct in suggesting that a person needs to see his/her world as getting brighter and better with each passing day.
The lessons of the Chanukkiyah still burn brightly today. Whatever we give will only serve to strengthen us – not to diminish us. The Maccabees knew that the day would arrive when they would enter the Temple and liberate it from
the ‘heathens’ who had defiled it. They just weren’t sure what day that would be.We light the Chanukkiyah – adding a candle each night – to remind ourselves that whatever sacrifices we are called upon to make now will leave us stronger–
not weaker – and the day will arrive when the light of freedomand peace will burn brightly for us and the world.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner