Debi M. Rowe, MAJE, RJE, Director of Education and Programs
Hanukkah occurs around the winter solstice—at the time of year when days are shortest (at least in the northern hemisphere), when the darkness of night looks as if it might well prevail. Our holiday responds by celebrating light. We respond to the darkness by lighting one light and then another and another until we bring warmth and light into a cold, dark world. Rabbi Daniel Polish suggests this is a “normal” human response to a “threatened dominance of darkness.”
Hanukkah most likely began as a celebration of a great military victory by our ancestors over the remnants of the empire of Alexander the Great. The Maccabees led a popular guerilla uprising that defeated the mighty Greek army. The ancient rabbis, who established the patterns of Jewish life, reshaped and assigned new values to the holiday. The rabbis emphasized a miracle concerning a small jar of oil for the eternal light that burned in the Temple and was never to go out. Only enough oil remained in that jar to keep the ﬂame burning for a single day. Miraculously the light continued to burn for eight days. For the rabbis and for the Jewish tradition that followed them, Hanukkah came to celebrate that miracle.
Perhaps we all need such assurances of light and hope when the nights are longer and the weather less than ideal. Rabbi Polish suggests that the greatest Hanukkah gift we are given is an encounter with perhaps. Perhaps that jar of oil actually did burn for eight days. Perhaps things do occur that exceed our ability to explain. Another way to think about Hanukkah is through the attribute of “trust.” The Maccabees could have given up when they found that small jar with so little oil. They could have said, “Why bother? It’s over. We lost.” Nonetheless, they lit the oil. They trusted in God and took the ﬁrst brave step. That’s when the real miracle happened.
As Hanukkah leads us into our secular New Year, let’s take these lessons with us into 2018. Leave the “what ifs” behind. Trust that suspending doubt and keeping our faith will guide our actions in the year ahead. Hold onto the goals and new year resolutions. Perhaps the faith the grows with each night’s Hanukkah candle will provide the incentive we need to embrace the new beginnings just ahead.