Hanukkah: A Time to Celebrate Freedom and Redemption

 

In the beginning there was light. Over 2,200 years ago the light was almost extinguished. But then humanity was introduced to an awareness that not only illuminated the path of life’s journey but also enabled us to understand the difference between good and evil. Hanukkah helps us understand this eternal struggle.

The lesson of Hanukkah should be that military might or the ability to wage war is contrary to the relationship required of us in our quest to connect with God. Perhaps that is why the Book of the Maccabees was not included in the Canon of Jewish Holy writings. To glorify armed conflict contradicts the very essence of Heaven’s connection to Earth. And yet, without Hanukkah and its military aspect, we would not be able to celebrate freedom and redemption. Perhaps the intent was to allow us the ability to decide when struggle justifies the need for spiritual salvation.

Hanukkah began the process of globalization of the understanding of God. The true meaning of sacrifice can be found in the light that emanates from the Menorah and affords us the opportunity to engross ourselves in the true meaning of the relationship between God and the created.

Hanukkah comes at a time when darkness surrounds us, whether it be the darkness of mind and body or the darkness of destructive experiences. There is despair and hopelessness because the days are short, the night is long, and the cold harshness of winter is upon us. We are reminded of our mortality. Some sleep and some die. For this is the darkest time of the year, the darkest time of our lives.

Then there is light. The warm glow of the candles kindles an awareness in our hearts that radiates strongly and gives us solace. We watch the flame, almost hypnotized, and we are assured of a brighter tomorrow. Each night we light another candle to be added to the candle of the preceding night until all eight are lit. And each encounter with the new flame gives us a new sense of enlightenment, a new level of holiness.

We celebrate Hanukkah primarily in our homes because there, too, do we find the comfort and serenity that separates the Holy from the profane. Our homes are sanctified through the blessings of family and friends. And it is in our homes that the lessons of life are first learned.

We cannot recapture the past, but we can use it to ensure the future. The religious freedom we established some 2,200 years ago has been the clarion call for all people throughout history. Every effort at religious freedom has had as its example the spark from the candles lit when evil was overcome. The Temple where it all began is no more, but the Temple is with us in all that we do, in all that we are — particularly at Hanukkah.

We pray not only for ourselves but for all peoples everywhere that the light of religious freedom will glow forever; that the light will give hope and meaning to our journey. We pray that the light will illuminate the paths of darkness awakening our souls to our societal duties, reminding us that there is goodness and that we have an obligation, a moral responsibility, to comfort the oppressed, to respond to those in trouble and to relieve as much pain and suffering as we are able. We also pray that tomorrow can be better and that life is cherished above military might or the ability to make war.

Perhaps the light of this season will illuminate our concentration on ending this nightmare of bigotry that surrounds us every day. Let these lights shine on those responsible for relieving the pain and suffering: those people in the forefront who administer to our needs so that we will all see the light of promise and redemption. Then perhaps the hate-filled rhetoric and vitriol will disappear, and we will feel safe and secure in our beliefs and fulfillment of our dreams.

 

 

Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D