Hanukkah celebrates many different things including the victory of the few over the many, the triumph of the holy over the profane, the need to fight assimilation and the miracle of the jar of oil.
But what I think Hanukkah ultimately represents is hope. And hope is something we need more than ever (or at least as much as ever).
This is certainly not the first time in our history that the world has looked bleak. But I think there is perhaps a deeper sense of despair and hopelessness. I think perhaps our trust is weaker, our will diminished, our defenses depleted. And apathy rampant.
Even the season conspires to bring us down with its grey skies and gloomy weather.
But along comes Hanukkah to lift us out of our despair, to reignite our hope, to remind us Who’s running the show.
Like the relief we feel on seeing the dawn after a long, dark and lonely night, Hanukkah literally shines its light on the darkness of our souls and on the plight of our people.
How is Hanukkah a message of hope?
The whole world seemed to be against the Jewish people at the time of the Hanukkah story. Even the Jewish people seemed to be against the Jewish people! Greek civilization glistened with promise. “We are the future; come join us,” it beckoned. And many did. But, as we all know, a small band of Jews led by the Maccabbees rose up in protest.
On paper their battle seemed hopeless. A ragtag Jewish army (and we’re using the word loosely) against the mighty Greeks. An “old-fashioned” religion against modernity and humanism? And yet they persevered and, with the Almighty’s help, won the battle. If they had given up hope, none of us would be here today.
On paper, the single jar of pure oil left to reconsecrate the Temple just wasn’t enough. We needed the oil to burn for eight days (enough time to get new oil in the pre-Fed-Ex times) not one. And yet the oil burned…and burned…and burned. The light of our hope reflected in the light of the Temple.
The Jewish people could have given up. It would have made sense (certainly if you adhered to Greek philosophy). But we knew there was always hope. We knew we had to act as if. We knew that the Almighty promised that even when the sword hangs over our heads we shouldn’t give up. And so we lit that one jar, we kindled that one day’s supply. And it lit up our lives – until today.
Like I said, the world seems dark. Hurricanes and recessions strain our finances. Psychological challenges threaten our homes. Anti-Semitism is on the rise and the “Palestinians” have made a successful UN bid. It would be easy to sink into depression; it is tempting to despair.
But Hanukkah is here. Hope is in the air. The lights of our menorah remind us that the Almighty takes care of us. In publicizing the miracles we remember Who’s in charge. And we know that just as He looked after us in those long ago days, He will look after us now.
So I’m spinning the dreidel, eating the latkes (and the doughnuts and my new Hanukkah treat, fried chicken!) and I’m saying my shechiyanu blessing with fervor. We are grateful to the Almighty for bringing us to this season and confident that He will bring His people to many more.
Maybe we forgot about all His kindnesses to us. Maybe we got a little distracted with our daily challenges. Maybe we got a little discouraged when we read the paper or listened to the news.
But Hanukkah is here to remind us: A great miracle happened there. And it could happen again. Happy Hanukkah!