Rabbi Rebecca Gutterman sent out this hopeful message to her congregation, B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek. It made me think of my Jewish – Muslim couples who are going through tough times now with all the brutal, prejudice words flying around. I will us all peace and sanity.
It is a hallmark of Jewish experience that wherever we have lived, we have both contributed and adapted to the different cultures surrounding us. Indeed, over the years we have folded a variety of ideas, rituals and flavors into our own traditions, melodies and recipes. Judaism’s ability to stretch in these was means that our stories have also gone through different incarnations, with different points of emphasis depending on the needs of the times.
Chanukah is a good example… maybe one of the best. Whenever Jewish communities were persecuted, remembering the military victory Chanukah celebrates – that of the few against the many – supplied us with much needed pride and hope. At other times when our concerns have centered on assimilation and related issues we face as a religious minority, we have emphasized the Maccabees’ fight for religious freedom. Meanwhile, as winter approaches and the nights grow longer, we derive comfort and peace from the holiday’s symbols of miracles and light.
The holiday is significant in another way. After the Maccabees’ victory, lighting of the Chanukiah and re-dedication of the Temple, they went on to create their own rule. The Hasmonean dynasty that followed opposed anyone who did not go along with Temple ritual, and used force to create uniform Jewish practice. When we pick up the weapons of those who have hurt us, it is all too easy to become like them, no matter how noble we believe our cause to be. Difficult though this message of the Chanukah story may be, it only grows timelier with the years.
And speaking of timely. It’s not at all unusual to offer and receive Chanukah greetings expressing the hope that the light of our candles pierce the dark forces of hatred and ignorance surrounding us. That is especially true today. We are beset by all too familiar horrors of polarization, anger, distortion and fear. Chanukah, and the Jewish values for which it speaks, has always urged us towards resisting such forces, and connecting to the belief – sometimes against staggering odds – in all that is life affirming and good.
May we take all of Chanukah’s legacies to heart, even those that cast a shadow. And let us summon our courage and raise our voices to speak out against this present darkness. We know all too well how it has enveloped us. May it envelop no other people.
Though the night can be dark indeed, may the candles reflected in our windows and the gifts in our lives combine to lighten our hearts.