This Hanukkah, Be the Light
Rabbi Cassi Kail
Nine months into the pandemic, every one of us has felt the impact. Somehow, around Thanksgiving, the emotional toll feels particularly pronounced. After my fourth conversation in one day with community members struggling from grief, loneliness, and isolation, I hung up the phone and thought, “Hanukkah can’t come soon enough.”
Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Light. We are taught that this is because the Israelites found a small vial of oil when they returned to the Temple after a long hiatus, and miraculously that oil lasted for eight nights. Al Walters teaches that there may have been another reason for this name: that Halley’s Comet was visible in Jerusalem at the time of the first Hanukkah. In 164 B.C.E., the comet came within 16 million kilometers of the earth, unusually close. It lit up the darkened sky, and one month later, the Hellenistic tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes died, marking the end of a dark moment in history. Halley’s comet then reappeared just as the Israelites were ready to begin their work of purifying the Temple. It did not depart until the rededication of the Temple on the 25th of the Hebrew month Kislev.
For the Israelites, the light became a symbol of hope in a more promising future. At the darkest moment in their lifetimes, a bright comet had lit up their world with possibility. This small vat of oil had dared to do the impossible: providing much more light than had been expected.
Right now, we, too, need a little more light. It may not come in the form of a seemingly bottomless vat of oil or as a comet that illuminates the darkened sky. Instead, this Hanukkah, we are called upon to be the light for one another.
In addition to lighting candles, singing Hanukkah songs, baking, frying, and gift-giving, what if we challenged ourselves to do an act of kindness each day of Hanukkah? We could send a package or a card to soldiers working diligently to protect us. We could offer a gift or note of thanks to EMTs, doctors, nurses, firefighters, and police who put themselves in harm’s way. We could reach out to a college student or grade school student to tell them just how proud we are of all they are accomplishing in this challenging situation. We could reach out to someone who lives alone to check-in or to offer help with errands. We can shop at a small business and promote it to all of our friends and family members.
Right now, all of us are struggling. So, let us use the opportunity of this Festival of Lights to be a light in one another’s’ lives. A kind word or act of generosity can go a long way. This Hanukkah, the world needs more light, and we are blessed with the ability to provide it.