Opinion/Keep the Faith: Hanukkah reminds us of light and hope, even in dark times – Worcester Telegram

Posted By on December 19, 2020

Rabbi Aviva Fellman| Telegram & Gazette

Yesterday, as it became dark, we ended our eight-day celebration ofthe holiday of Hanukkah,a festive holiday that commemorates the 165 BCE victory of a small band of Jewish fighters, theHashmonaim, over the foreign forces that ruled the land of Israel. TheHashmonaimrestored the sacred Temple for worship and reinstated Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem.

When I was little, I was taught that the Hanukkah story was about the miracle of oil that lasted foreightdays in the rededication of the Temple the amount of timewe were told thatit took to make more pure oil and get it to the Temple for use.

When I was older and read throughtheFirst and SecondBook ofMaccabees in the Apocrypha, I learnedthatHanukkah was based on the holiday of Sukkot. Because the Jews were busy fighting and the Temple was desecrated, they could not celebrate the fall pilgrimage festival. When the Temple wasonce again in their hands, they celebratedboththe last holiday that they had missed,and the last one that they had celebrated in the Temple two years prior, Sukkot (the Festival of Booths), hencethe reason that Hanukkah is eight days.

Recently, I read a story in the Talmudabout the first winter after the creation of the world.WhenAdam,the first human being, saw that the days were getting shorter and shorter, he said: Oy! Woe is me; maybe because I have sinned the world is getting dark and is going to return to chaos! … He got up and spent eight days in fasting and prayer.When he saw that the winter solstice had arrived, and that the days were getting longer again, he said: this is just the order of the world. He went and celebrated a holiday for eight days.(BabylonianTalmud,AvodahZarah8a)

The Talmud then tells us thatthe next year, he celebrated this ritual again. We know thatthe winter iscold, long, anddark and that it is easy to give up hope but just as soon as the days reach their shortest and darkest, they start getting lighter and longer.

Just here, in this brief article,I have shared three truths about why we celebrate Hanukkah: The miracle of the oil, theconsecration of Sukkot, and an annualmarkingof the dark time of year bythefirst human.Regardless of the reason that we celebrate,the point is tocelebrate,and the narrative textsabout the origin storiesall seem to emphasizethat the people (not God) declared that we should celebratethisholidayto offer praise and thanksgiving.As Rabbi Irving Greenbergwrote, Not as tightly knit in paradigm, theme, and practice as the other holidays, Hanukkah lends itself to being a type of holy day Rorschach test. Every community and generationhasinterpreted Hanukkah in its own image, speaking to its own needs.

Every major religion has a winter holiday that centers around light and hopeandHanukkahisno different.Each of the truths about the origin and reason for observing the holiday arestillbasedon and connected tobringing hope and light into the darkest season.And this year, when there is much to hope for,especially as we watched the first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine be distributed and administered,we can reach within and find that light, that patience, that joy and bring it out into the world.

As part of ourobservance of the holiday, we light an increasing number ofcandles each nightas a way toincrease the light overeach of theeight days.But even with theseincreasing number of candles and flames, we further increase the light each night bylighting a shamash, a helper candle. Thisshamashis the one that we use to light the other candles, it is the onewhose lightweuseso that the candles of the holiday remain sacred for sharing about the beauty and miraculous nature of the holiday. What lighting this candle also means isthat the candles of theHanukkiyahare never alone.

We are never alone, even in the deepest dark of winter. Whenwe light one additional candle, the shamash,on each night of Hanukkah, it brings justa littlemore lightintoour lives. It helpsusto acknowledge that there is light out in the world too, there is reason to hope. May ourlights, our hope, our celebrations, and our hearts be open and bring joy to our lives and the lives of those in our community and our world.

Rabbi Aviva Fellman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester. She is also an active member of Worcester Interfaith, teaches in W.I.S.E., and is a married mother of 4.

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Opinion/Keep the Faith: Hanukkah reminds us of light and hope, even in dark times - Worcester Telegram

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