Tag: Chanukah

Private First Class Eric Moraly Shares Jewish Pride at the Army & Navy Academy

Cadet Eric Moraly (center) standing in full uniform 

I love it when our Congregation Or Ami young people take pride in and share their commitment to being Jewish.

See the young man in uniform standing in the center of the group of cadets? That is Eric Moraly, a member of Congregation Or Ami, who attends Army & Navy Academy in Carlsbad, CA. A cadet, Eric is currently a Private First Class.

His mother Dana Moraly knew that they were going to be handing out Christmas stockings to all of the cadets at the December holiday party, so she sent Eric gelt and dreidels to give to everyone.

His mother recounted what happened next:

As the party got going, they asked Eric to come up and explain what Chanukah was. According all repots, Eric very eloquently told the story of Chanukah to the 340 other cadets. A fair number of foreign students from Asia, Africa, and elsewhere attend the Army & Navy Academy. Many of them have never even met a Jew before.  They especially appreciated learning about Judaism from him. 

Eric became a Bar Mitzvah at Congregation Or Am and is an alum of URJ Camp Newman.  A quiet young man, Eric has blossomed in the Army & Navy Academy and has aspirations to be a leader in that program. His parents are so proud that while Eric is being exposed to many different cultures, he is not turning his back on his own. He lets everyone know that he is Jewish and is in no way embarrassed to be different from this largely Christian environment that he is living in.

At Congregation Or Ami, we take pride that Eric takes pride in being Jewish. And we are thrilled to hear about how our young people are going out into the world and bringing their Jewish values with them.

Do you have a story about how your children have embraced their Judaism? Do tell!

Thanksgivukkah? ChanTHANKSukah? Tur-Lat-Key Day?

We each have moments when we step back and take stock. Opportunities afforded to us because the year has turned one full cycle and we, clay to touched by holiness, are allowed a glimpse into the essence of our lives.

A significant birthday.
An anniversary.
A Yahrzeit.

2 years of sobriety.
25 years since ordination.
3 years since you came out of the closet to your family.

Each of these moments transcend time, allowing us – like Adam haKadmon “in the beginning” – to see clearly the past and our present. They invite us to imagine the future.

Holy Days are for Accounting
Our Jewish holy days, set in the Torah or by rabbinic decree, invite a similar accounting. These holy days cycle back annually, calling us to recall who we were and who we are becoming now.

  • Rosh Hashana, as the new year begins, invites us to count our blessings.
  • Yom Kippur calls us to balance the accounting of our ma’asim (good deeds) and averot (errors/sins).
  • Pesach, a new beginning, invites us to recount the freedom which we once had, then lost, then with God’s help, reclaimed anew.

Each of these holy days turn us inward to the essence of our lives, and then subtly force our gaze and focus outward to the needs and concerns of our people.

The Unique Convergence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving

Even this “once in a lifetime” holiday – Thanksgivukkah… ChanTHANKSukah… Tur-Lat-key Day – moves us through the same eternal cycle.

For many, the beauty of the Chanukah-Thanksgiving pairing is that it leads us away from the prevalent (narcissistic) “gimme-gimme” culture (gimme presents, gimme food) instead turns our focus outward. We find ourselves being especially thankful for the food, the family surrounding us and the blessings that uplift our lives.

Now if only we could harness those warm fuzzy feelings and transform them into a force for tikkun (repair).

That’s why I’m particularly excited about the relatively new venture called #GivingTuesday.

You know about Black Friday and Cyber Monday – two days designated in American retail culture for conspicuous consumption and for getting deals. #GivingTuesday — the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the Tuesday in the middle of Chanukah — is a day when we are invited to give to others to act to create a better brighter world.

We will light the lights of Chanukah. We will offer our thanks on Thanksgiving. Let’s also transform our warm feelings into real action by supporting organizations which truly transform the world.

Who I Think about for #GivingTuesday
On #GivingTuesday, I will be supporting two favorite “do good” organizations – my own Congregation Or Ami and the CCAR: Central Conference of American Rabbis. I will be donating to them to help Jews and rabbis bring light into the world.

CCAR’s #GivingTuesday and Congregation Or Ami’s #GivingTuesday brighten our world. Please be a force for good. Visit and support them.

Happy Tur-Lat-Key Day!

About Congregation Or Ami
I’m pleased that Congregation Or Ami is inviting you to share your blessings – and tzedakah – on #GivingTuesday. At Or Ami, people matter. Congregation Or Ami is home to a warm and welcoming, innovative, musical Jewish community. We deepen relationships with each other, while immersing in Torah, Israel and the Source of All Life. We travel together down Jewish paths which inspire our hearts and souls, and transform us to seek justice and nurture compassion in the world.

About the CCAR
I am pleased that the Central Conference of American Rabbis is inviting you to share your blessings – and tzedakah – on #GivingTuesday. The CCAR strengthens and enriches the entire Jewish community and plays a critical leadership role in the Reform Movement through its work by fostering excellence in Reform Rabbis, unifying the Reform Jewish community through the publication of liturgy, providing essential support to rabbis – professionally and personally, and offering important resources to congregations and community organizations. Services to the Reform Rabbinate, in-turn, enhance connectedness among Reform Jews by applying Jewish values to the world in which we live and help create a compelling and accessible Judaism for today and the future.

The Motif of Light in Jewish Tradition

On Chanukah we light the menorah/chanukiah, increasing the light in a very dark world. What is the significance of light in Judaism and Jewish ritual? What purpose did the menorah in the Jerusalem Temple originally serve?

Rabbi Adin Steinsalz offers some answers to these questions in an article that appeared in the Jerusalem Post. The excerpt below are his words. Thanks to Or Ami congregant David Eshaghpour for bringing it to my attention.  


Light is the genesis – the creation of the world. The primary utterance of creation is “Let there be light,” its separation from darkness. The Midrash asks – from what was light created? The answer is whispered: “G-d cloaked [Godself] in a white shawl, and the light of its splendor shone from one end of the world to the other” (Genesis Rabba 3:4).

In other words, fundamentally, light does not belong to this world. Rather, it is an emanation of a different essence, from the other side of reality. Light serves as the symbol of good and the beautiful, of all that is positive….

The use of light as a symbolic expression of the positive aspect of reality is … realized also in the use of light and lamps as concrete means of expression. These symbolize and point to an essence that contains holiness, in all its different appearances in reality: in the sanctity of place (in the Holy of Holies at the Temple), in the sanctity of time (on the Sabbath and Festivals) and in the sanctity and importance of events (on special occasions).

THE TEMPLE menorah, for all its ornate and elaborate craftsmanship, did not serve any practical purpose. It was there as a symbol of the holiness of that place, its relation to light. The menorah was a sphere of sunlight, which shone through the walls and curtains. It is little wonder that this meaning of the Temple menorah was conceived by the Jewish people as the symbol par excellence of Jewish existence, as can be seen in Jewish ornaments from all periods.

The same goes for the Sabbath and Festival candles. Initially, the Sabbath candles were lit for a very prosaic reason – to make light for those who eat the Sabbath evening meal, so that they would not spend the evening in utter darkness. The light of the candles has turned into the very symbol of the Sabbath itself, a sort of “light of the seven days of Creation,” shining in a sanctified niche of time.

The festival of Hanukka is expressed by the ceremonial lighting of candles, which increase daily in number – to symbolize how “light exceeds darkness” in the festival of victory, purification and historic upheaval. So, too, is the tradition for parents to escort their children to the wedding canopy with candles or torches. They are a light of pure joy and hope….

Thus, on one hand we have the light of the Holy place, which does not even have to be seen, while on the other hand is the light of the Shabbat candles, which is to be used. The Hanukka candles are “holy” – we have no right to use them, but only to behold them. The same goes for the messages that these lights convey: glory, the joy of victory, a remembrance of eternity, or an outburst of merriment….
The difference between the single wicks of the Sabbath candles and the braided torch of the Havdala candle is the distinction between a light of calmness, of repose and of homeliness, and the stronger light of the torch – a light with which, on the one hand, accompanies the departing [Shabbat] queen, and on the other, lights the darkness which becomes more marked in her absence. The Hanukka candles stand in one line to mark and count the days, and the shamash (helper or servant) candle, stands apart to indicate that, unlike the other candles, it is there for practical use.

Yet, above all, the function of light is to illuminate. In Judaism, darkness has never had religious significance. The curtain of darkness and mist is the kelipah (husk or shell). And to the extent that light does have a role to play, it is, as the Sefer Yetzirah says, that “the existence of darkness underscores light, emphasizes the yearning for it.”….

That Tiny Cruse of Oil: Truth amidst the Myth

This post was slightly edited from a posting by Rabbi Phil Cohen.  This is wonderful piece on the Truth in Chanukah, or better, the ahistorical truth that still lives on in the non-historical story of the cruse of oil.  For background, you might want to first read the New York Times’ What Historically Happened Back During the Time of the Maccabees and my The True Story of Chanukah. Rabbi Cohen’s writing is another of those “I Wish I Wrote This” articles.  Insightful and significant, the article addresses why we can still believe in legends that are not historical:

Rabbi Phil Cohen writes:
I first learned of the history of the story of that jar of oil on my first visit, pre-interview, to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City.  I sat in on an Education class.  The professor demonstrated through the use of texts from the apocryphal books of Maccabees I and II through the place where the Miracle of the Oil first appears in the Talmud, that there is a span of around 650 years between the Maccabean wars and the first sighting of the miracle story.  Hmm…

The Challenge of Legend
There are undoubtedly analyses of this phenomenon which I have read and which I have missed.  But this rationalist presentation teaches me a very great deal.  

  1. Legends arise.  
  2. Legends may not be, and, indeed, likely as not, never happened. 
  3. Legends often, but not always, teach inner truths, their lack of historicity notwithstanding. 
  4. We can eschew the legend and lose the truth or, 
  5. We can embrace the legend and embrace the truth.  
  6. We can embrace the truth and then drash (interpret) on it to find more truth and more truth, ad infinitum.

Meaning Abides
The modernist conundrum has always been, how to keep the baby and lose the bathwater, or some such.  The universal loss of Torah m’Sinai (the non-historical idea that Torah was given at Mt. Sinai) has not resulted in the loss of Torah as the founding Jewish document and never will.

Similarly, the loss of the Chanukah Miracle of the Oil has not resulted in the loss of the chanukkiah, and never will, the power of the chanukkiah being undeniable.  The chanukkiah still produces light; it is always our task both the make that light and, far more important, understand the light and then proclaim that understanding.

It makes no sense to me to stand up and deny the fact that there is inner meaning to the story of that tiny cruse of oil.  Though this amounts to an argument from authority, it’s been going on for a long time–who are we to deny its meaning?  Just what is its meaning?  Ah, that’s our continuing challenge.

Finding Meaning in our Legends
Our task has always been to find meaning, new meaning, and then newer meaning. Our parameters differ from those of our not so distant rabbinic ancestors.  So what? Jews are in the meaning business, no matter what side of the historical divide they find themselves.  Always have been.  That’s why Rabbinic commentators Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ramban, and Seforno and so forth are all on the same page, right? Because each of the shines new light on ancient truths which allows them to illuminate greater and greater parts of our lives and world.

So let’s fry up some latkes, sing a few songs, light that chanukkiah, and figure out, anew, why we bother.

So how does this article illuminate (or darken) your perspective on Chanukah?  I’d love to know.  

Chag Chanukah Samayach – Happy Chanukah

11 Rituals for 8 Nights of Chanukah Celebration

The Calabasisher Rebbe, the RiPiK, teaches: One does not fully celebrate Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, unless one does 11 rituals over the 8 nights.

  1. Lights the candles and puts the Chanukiyah (Chanukah menorah) in the window to publicize the miracle. Print out the Chanukah blessings.
  2. Tell the story of Chanukah. This is a festival when Jewish values triumphed over Greek pagan practice, when religious freedom overcame the impulse for religious coercion. An important reminder that America too is home of religious freedom. Download the story.
  3. Sing Chanukah songs. We transform king Antiochus’ impulse to annihilate the Jews through simcha, the impulse to celebrate life and Jewish living. Singing is the glue that binds us to the Jewish soul. Get Cantor Cotler’s Favorite Chanukah Songsheet.
  4. Eat latkes or sufganiot (jelly-filled donuts). Both are cooked in oil, allowing us to consume the message of the Chanukah tale, that oil enough for only one night lasted for 8 nights. By playing with our food (or better, eating it), we become the oil, prepared as Jews to outshine any impulse to give up our values. Read the recipes.
  5. Give presents. Cool to give, cool to get. But be wary of becoming too materialistic.
  6. Have Parents’ Night. Set aside one night only for kids to give to parents. By insisting on this and helping facilitate it, we teach our children the values of kibud av v’em (honoring one’s father and mother), and ahava (love means giving, not just getting).
  7. Give Tzedakah (charitable giving). Set aside one night for only giving tzedakah. Everyone contribute something, then as a group choose recipients and amounts. Search the web for do gooder organizations. Here’s my 8 ideas for 8 nights of tzedakah.
  8. Celebrate with family and friends. ‘Nuff said?!
  9. Celebrate with community. Congregation Or Ami’s multigenerational Chanukah celebration on Friday, December 23, 2011 at 6:30 pm is open to the entire community. Bring a Chanukiyah to light. Enter a plate of homemade latkes into our Latke Baking Contest.
  10. Play the dreidel game. Through sacred play, we reteach that Nes Gadol Haya Sham, a great miracle happened there. Play with chocolate gelt, raisins and nuts or M&M’s, and the spoils are tasty too. Review the rules for play.
  11. Remember the (second) Miracle. Yes, that oil enough for one night lasted for 8. But as significantly, think about that one Jewish priest in the Jerusalem Temple who, knowing there was not enough oil to last until new oil could be made, lit the menorah nonetheless. From him we learn the eternal Jewish value of Tikvah, hope. Jewish families never give up hope because we believe that goodness is just a night or 8 away.
Resist the urge to allow Chanukah to become just 1 minute of candle lighting and 3 minutes of gift opening.  Celebrate the Festival with these 11 rituals. 

What did I miss?  Do tell!?!
For everything you need to celebrate Chanukah, take a look at Congregation Or Ami’s Chanukah resources page at www.orami.org/Chanukah.

Why Do We Need to Use a Shamash Candle?

8 Blogs for 8 Nights of Chanukah
Blog #4: Making Chanukah Come Alive, Four Nights Later

Question: Why do we need to use a candle – the Shamash (helper) candle – when we can just as easily use a match to light the Menorah?

It has to do with the “Way of the Long Pole.”

Some background: Back in Biblical times, in the outer chamber of the ancient Jerusalem Temple, the Menorah stood in a special area called the heichal (sanctuary). The Menorah was a five-foot, seven branched candelabra of pure gold. Every morning, a kohen (priest, member of the Israelite clergy) filled the menorah’s lamps with the purest olive oil; in the afternoon, he would climb a three-step foot-ladder to kindle the menorah’s lamps. The flames burned through the night, symbolizing the light of the Holy One radiating throughout Israel and the world.

Interesting Pair of Factoids:

  • Actually, it did not have to be a priest (kohen) who lit the menorah. The Jewish law states that an ordinary layperson could also perform this mitzvah.
  • But there was also a law that restricts entry into the ancient Jerusalem Temple’s Sanctuary to priests only. In the ancient world, ordinary Israelites could venture no further than the azarah (Temple courtyard).

These two ancient laws created a legal paradox: a layperson can light the menorah; but the menorah’s designated place is inside the Sanctuary, where a layperson could not enter.

Talk about inconsistencies:

  • If an ordinary person should be able to light the Menorah, why doesn’t Torah instruct us to place And if the sanctity of the ancient Menorah is such that it requires the higher holiness found in the sanctuary, why does the Torah permit someone without a kohen’s level of holiness to light it?

This paradox, teach the Chassidic rebbes, is intentionally set up by the Torah in order to convey to us a most profound lesson. You are here, and you want to be there (“there” being someplace better, loftier, more spiritual than “here”). But you are not there, and cannot get there for a good while, perhaps ever.

So what do you do? Do you act as if you’re already there? Or do you tell yourself that here’s just fine, and who needs there anyway? You could, of course, become a hypocrite, or you could come to terms with the limitations of your situation. But there’s also a third option – the Way of the Long Pole.

The solution – the “Way of the Long Pole” – is that a layperson could light the menorah by means of a long pole. This ordinary Israelite stands outside the ancient Sanctuary, extends to the Menorah a long pole with a flame on the end, and thereby lights the Menorah.

What a great solution to a spiritual problem!

The lesson of the long pole says that we should aspire to spiritual heights that lie beyond our reach. We should not desist from our efforts to reach that place. Even when we worry that we, ourselves, will never be “there,” we can still act upon places in the distance, influencing them, and even illuminating them.

At times, this means that someone closer to those places – to the Menorah – needs to reach over and light it for us. At other times, it means that we contrive a way to reach beyond where we are at the present time. In either case, we turn to (or turn into) a “lamplighter,” a person who carries a long pole with a flame at its end and goes from lamp to lamp to ignite them; no lamp is too lowly, and no lamp is too lofty, for the lamplighter and his pole.

The shamash candle reminds us of the Way of the Long Pole. This Chanukah, if you are gathered with a group without the ability to physically get close enough to light the Menorah, allow others to illumine for you the way to a higher spiritual place. If you are able, let the shamash candle be your “long pole,” transforming you into the “lamplighter,” illuminating the way ahead. Either way, may this Chanukah be an inspiring one for you and your loved ones.

[Now read my post about being a Lamplighter.]

  • For Chanukah Resources to enhance your celebration – songsheets, blessing sheets, 8 Nights of Chanukah Tzedakah, 8 stories, and more – go to www.orami.org/chanukah
  • Come back each night to the blog (http://rabbipaul.blogspot.com) for more 8 Blogs for 8 Nights: Answers to Questions You Never Thought About, which enhance your understanding of Chanukah.
  • If you would answer today’s question differently, or have other Chanukah ideas/questions, please share your insights in a comment. I will make a donation to tzedakah for every comment written.

[Adapted from A Long Pole, an article by Yanki Tauber]

How Can We Make Our Ritual Uplifting and Meaningful?

8 Blogs for 8 Nights of Chanukah
Blog #4: Making Chanukah Come Alive, Four Nights Later

Question: Everyone is kvetching that we should just light and give gifts. How Can We Make Our Ritual Uplifting and Meaningful?

As you are gathering around the candles, before you light them, view one of these videos on a computer, laptop or iPod:

Remember, Chanukah – like all Jewish holy days – deserves the kavod (respect) and simcha (joy) that modern technology, teaching techniques and entertainment offers. Liven up your celebration every night!

  • For Chanukah Resources to enhance your celebration – songsheets, blessing sheets, 8 Nights of Chanukah Tzedakah, 8 stories, and more – go to www.orami.org/chanukah
  • Come back each night to the blog (http://rabbipaul.blogspot.com) for more 8 Blogs for 8 Nights: Answers to Questions You Never Thought About, which enhance your understanding of Chanukah.
  • If you would answer today’s question differently, or have other Chanukah ideas/questions, please share your insights in a comment. I will make a donation to tzedakah for every comment written.

What Happened Historically Back in Israel During the Time of the Maccabees?

8 Blogs for 8 Nights of Chanukah
Blog #3: The True Story of Chanukah: Complex, Bloody, Challenging

Question: Chanukah Is About More than Lights and Menorah. What Happened Historically Back in Israel During the Time of the Maccabees?

David Brooks (NYTimes columnist) writes in his article titled The Hanukkah Story:

Tonight Jewish kids will light the menorah, spin their dreidels and get their presents, but Hanukkah is the most adult of holidays. It commemorates an event in which the good guys did horrible things, the bad guys did good things and in which everybody is flummoxed by insoluble conflicts that remain with us today. It’s a holiday that accurately reflects how politics is, how history is, how life is.

It begins with the spread of Greek culture. Alexander’s Empire, and the smaller empires that succeeded it, brought modernizing ideas and institutions to the Middle East. At its best, Hellenistic culture emphasized the power of reason and the importance of individual conscience. It brought theaters, gymnasiums and debating societies to the cities. It raised living standards, especially in places like Jerusalem.

Many Jewish reformers embraced these improvements. The Greeks had one central idea: their aspirations to create an advanced universal culture. And the Jews had their own central idea: the idea of one true God. The reformers wanted to merge these two ideas.

Urbane Jews assimilated parts of Greek culture into their own, taking Greek names like Jason, exercising in the gymnasium and prospering within Greek institutions. Not all Jews assimilated. Some resisted quietly. Others fled to the hills. But Jerusalem did well. The Seleucid dynasty, which had political control over the area, was not merely tolerant; it used imperial money to help promote the diverse religions within its sphere.

In 167 B.C., however, the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, issued a series of decrees defiling the temple, confiscating wealth and banning Jewish practice, under penalty of death. It’s unclear why he did this. Some historians believe that extremist Jewish reformers were in control and were hoping to wipe out what they saw as the primitive remnants of their faith. Others believe Antiochus thought the Jews were disloyal fifth columnists in his struggle against the Egyptians and, hence, was hoping to assimilate them into his nation.

Regardless, those who refused to eat pork were killed in an early case of pure religious martyrdom.

As Jeffrey Goldberg, who is writing a book on this period, points out, the Jews were slow to revolt. The cultural pressure on Jewish practice had been mounting; it was only when it hit an insane political level that Jewish traditionalists took up arms. When they did, the first person they killed was a fellow Jew.

In the town of Modin, a Jew who was attempting to perform a sacrifice on a new Greek altar was slaughtered by Mattathias, the old head of a priestly family. Mattathias’s five sons, led by Judah Maccabee, then led an insurgent revolt against the regime.

The Jewish civil war raised questions: Who is a Jew? Who gets to define the right level of observance? It also created a spiritual crisis. This was not a battle between tribes. It was a battle between theologies and threw up all sorts of issues about why bad things happen to faithful believers and what happens in the afterlife — issues that would reverberate in the region for centuries, to epic effect.

The Maccabees are best understood as moderate fanatics. They were not in total revolt against Greek culture. They used Greek constitutional language to explain themselves. They created a festival to commemorate their triumph (which is part of Greek, not Jewish, culture). Before long, they were electing their priests.

On the other hand, they were fighting heroically for their traditions and the survival of their faith. If they found uncircumcised Jews, they performed forced circumcisions. They had no interest in religious liberty within the Jewish community and believed religion was a collective regimen, not an individual choice.

They were not the last bunch of angry, bearded religious guys to win an insurgency campaign against a great power in the Middle East, but they may have been among the first. They retook Jerusalem in 164 B.C. and rededicated the temple. Their regime quickly became corrupt, brutal and reactionary. The concept of reform had been discredited by the Hellenizing extremists. Practice stagnated. Scholarship withered. The Maccabees became religious oppressors themselves, fatefully inviting the Romans into Jerusalem.

Generations of Sunday school teachers have turned Hanukkah into the story of unified Jewish bravery against an anti-Semitic Hellenic empire. Settlers in the West Bank tell it as a story of how the Jewish hard-core defeated the corrupt, assimilated Jewish masses. Rabbis later added the lamp miracle to give God at least a bit part in the proceedings.

But there is no erasing the complex ironies of the events, the way progress, heroism and brutality weave through all sides. The Maccabees heroically preserved the Jewish faith. But there is no honest way to tell their story as a self-congratulatory morality tale. The lesson of Hanukkah is that even the struggles that saved a people are dappled with tragic irony, complexity and unattractive choices.

Now read Rabbi Paul Kipnes’ Chanukah as the Second Sukkot: True Story of Chanukah

[Reprinted from David Brooks (New York Times), The Hanukkah Story, December 2009]

  • For Chanukah Resources to enhance your celebration – songsheets, blessing sheets, 8 Nights of Chanukah Tzedakah, 8 stories, and more – go to www.orami.org/chanukah
  • Come back each night to the blog (http://rabbipaul.blogspot.com) for more 8 Blogs for 8 Nights: Answers to Questions You Never Thought About, which enhance your understanding of Chanukah.
  • If you would answer today’s question differently, or have other Chanukah ideas/questions, please share your insights in a comment. I will make a donation to tzedakah for every comment written.

With Only Enough Oil for One Day, How did the Jews React as Nightfall Approached?

8 Blogs for 8 Nights of Chanukah
Blog #2: Miracle Meditation for the Second Candle and the Second Day of Chanukah

Question: With only enough oil to last for one day, how did the Jews react as nightfall approached at the end of that first day?

The miracle of the second candle is one of surprise, joy, and delight. With the benefit of hindsight, and with the story so entrenched in Jewish culture and consciousness, we have to work to imagine the anxiety, shock and celebration that must have ensued when the light burned past its time.

Picture the scene: Jews are gathered around the newly purified Jerusalem Temple. They hold one another, celebrating the victory, supporting one another over the losses. Nonetheless, they are keenly aware that the flame is about to go out in the Menorah. They feel the sadness that the oil, enough for one day, is almost fully consumed. This represents another loss, another bit of damage inflicted by Antiochus’ Assyrian-Greeks. Still, they congregate around the Menorah. This Jewish community wants to bask in the Light and celebrate the victory for as long as it will last.

During times of anxiety, people react in different ways.

For some, tension makes tempers flare. We imagine debates breaking out among the Maccabees over whether to continue fighting for complete political independence, or to be satisfied with having beaten the enemy back. Failing to appreciate the renewed light emanating from the Menorah, they begin arguing: “We have our menorah back: purify the oil, focus on holy, and light the flame of faith again.” “No, we must instead endure more darkness. Therefore, purify the oil, focus on the holy, and don’t abandon the fight until it is done.”

For others, miracles abound in every moment. For them, recognition grew that just being there – in Jerusalem, at the Temple, in front of the Menorah, was miraculous enough. They thought that it was foolish to waste precious moments arguing when the Light, so finite, was about to go out. They separated from the debaters to find comfort and strength in the illumination of the Menorah. And then…

Before anyone realized it, a buzz starts to go through the crowd. First one person and then another realized that the flame had been burning “too long.” There was more light, more hope, than they had dared to expect. Soon everyone was cheering and singing. The Light would not go out! The political choices were still before them, but the spiritual promise mattered more. The Light will not go out!

Tonight, as you light the second candle of Chanukah, strive to be like those who take comfort in the Light of the Menorah. Take care not to rush through the candle lighting. Take time to chant blessings, to sing songs. Tell the story if you did not tell it last night. Cherish light. Cherish family and friends. Recount the miracles, the joy and the surprises of your life.

Perhaps take a few quiet moments in front of the second candle or during the second day of Hanukah and consider:

  • What are the miracles of joy, surprise, and delight in your life?
  • Was there a time when you were you recovering from loss, or preparing to face an uncertain future, when you got a gift – a sudden surge of hope, of Light, a promise for the future?

For Chanukah Resources to enhance your celebration – songsheets, blessing sheets, 8 Nights of Chanukah Tzedakah, 8 stories, and more – go to www.orami.org/chanukah

Come back each night to the blog (http://rabbipaul.blogspot.com) for more 8 Blogs for 8 Nights: Answers to Questions You Never Thought About, which enhance your understanding of Chanukah. If you would answer the question differently, share your insights in a comment. I will make a donation to tzedakah for every comment written.

[Adapted from Miracle Meditations for Chanukah by Rabbi Debra Orenstein]