Educationally Speaking – December 2019

Our Light Shines on Ourselves

Racheli Morris, Director of Education

On the 25th of Kislev, the Jewish holiday of lights begins. The holiday of Hanukkah means the holiday of dedication. Its stories come from many roots. There is the root of culture, politics, and religion to consider.

Culture—With the spread of Greek culture known as Hellenism, the western world was taken over by Alexander the Great. From present day Greece came forth a set of values that forms much of our own understanding of civilization. Art, science, beauty and wisdom were the bedrock of Greek culture. Many Jews seized upon the attraction of Greek culture and wanted to be as Greek as possible. This meant learning as the Greeks did, believing as the Greeks did, and living as the Greeks did. The Greek Jews were many and threatened the Jews who believed differently than the Greeks. As the Greek culture flowered, there was a push to have everyone be Greek and it got as far as our own Temple in Jerusalem. The Greeks made it a Greek temple focusing on Greek idolatry

Politics—Israel is at a crossroads to Europe, Asia and Africa. As far as the territory, it is coveted by any emerging empire in the area, which included the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Persian, and Assyrian empires. The Jews have always had to make alliances to maintain a safe Israel for the Jewish people. The Hanukkah story is about how a small band of Jewish Zealots named the Hasmonean or Maccabees, rose, even though few to fight the Greeks to gain freedom for Jews to worship in the Temple free from idolatry. The war that was waged had the Greeks ousted from the Temple and the Maccabees rededicate the Temple to God. Those original Maccabees eventually turned out as tyrannical rulers of the Jews, but they started off with worthy goals.

Religion—Judaism is not famous for celebrating the victory of war and the Jews of the time desperately wanted to memorialize the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks. A story arose of a single pure jug of olive oil to be used to light the Menorah in the Temple. It was enough sacred oil to last one day, but it miraculously lasted eight days. Coincidentally, that is the exact amount of time it took to have made more sacred, pure oil for Temple use to have the Menorah lit continuously.

Presently, Hanukkah means a look back into the past and to the future. We kindle our lights, sing, pray and celebrate light in a typically dark time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The shortest day of the year is the Winter Solstice, the 21st of December in our secular calendar. Our light shines on ourselves, our world, our culture, our religion, our politics and on our dependence on miracles.

This Hanukkah will bring us to a time of joy, warmth, sharing and love. We are grateful that we have the chance to worship in our way and that there is not just one way to be. Without the Maccabees, there may only be one way of thinking in the world allowed, the Greek way. We have been gifted Hanukkah by the Maccabees and ourselves.