This week the Henderson Jewish community came together at the District to sing and dance and light the Menorah. I had the opportunity to share a message I read about this year from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain. I share it here as well.
When it comes to Hanukkah there are basically two things we are commemorating/celebrating. We are honoring the memory of the Macabees and their defeat of the Assyrian Greeks, and we are recalling the miracle of the lone cruise of oil, enough to kindle the Menorah in the Temple for one day, that lasted for eight days.
But, when you look in the Talmud, it is clear that for the rabbis, it was this latter recollection, the miracle of the oil, which really mattered. The rabbis downplayed the significance of the battle and the role of the Macabees in defeating the Greeks. There is no ritual that we do to memorialize the battle. Why is that? Why do the rabbis put so little emphasis on the battle? After all, it was a very significant battle in world history. It was a battle between the few and ill-trained versus the mightiest army in the world. It marked the beginning of the fall of the Greek Empire and the rise of the Roman Empire.
Rabbi Sacks points out that the rabbis of the Talmud had good reason to focus on the miracle of the oil and not the battle. The battle, as great and important as it was, was ephemeral, short –lived. The Hasmonean dynasty lasted only about two hundred years before Jerusalem was once again conquered and the Jews exiled. But the miracle of the oil, the message it is meant to teach us, has lasted for over two thousand years, and continues to this day. It is the message of bringing light to darkness. As Jews we have a responsibility to be a “light unto the nations.” That message is as important today as it was in the time of the Macabees and later in the time of the rabbis in the Talmud. The rabbis of the Talmud understood this well and when they established the proper way to light the candles, they decreed that the Menorah should be lit in the windows of our houses for all the outside world to see. So many of our rituals take place privately, in our homes, but the Menorah is not just for us, it is for all to see.
As we continue to light the Hanukkah candles over the next couple of nights, let us remind ourselves of our duty to share the ethics and values of our tradition, not just with ourselves, but with the world.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Samayach