Thursday, July 24, 2014 Tammuz 26, 5774

Chanukah: It's About Light, in All Its Forms

December 3, 2009 By:
Judd Levingston, JE Feature
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This year, Chanukah will feel different for our family because there will be much more light than before.

Our middle daughter knows all about light, having just celebrated her Bat Mitzvah two months ago on the week when we read the story of creation in the Torah.

For nearly a year, she practiced chanting the Hebrew verses announcing the creation of light, and she understood the drama in the words, "God saw that it was good."

After reading about the light filling the primordial world, it seemed fitting that she received gifts of Chanukah menorahs and Shabbat candlesticks, some for home and some for travel.

"The more the merrier," she said. She likes having options, and we all like to see the little flames dancing.

Chanukah is a light-bringing holiday. When we light the candles each night, the flames capture our attention and give flight to the imagination.

We imagine that the cold outside can't come in, and we suspend disbelief as the day's frustrations and difficult moments quickly fade.

Each night presents a set of options: Our middle daughter helps us to decide which Chanukah menorahs we should light. Our youngest daughter helps with the color schemes (blue-and-white, rainbow, orange and purple ...) for each menorah, and our oldest son takes out his saxophone and picks out the songs that we should sing.

As Adam Sandler relays in the popular "Hanukkah Song," "instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights."

In our family, we vary the celebrations; over the course of eight nights, we exchange gifts and fry up different kinds of latkes. Some nights we are with family and friends, and on some nights, homework prevents us from doing much else once the candles are lit. However we celebrate, the glowing candles and their reflections in the windows inspire beauty and grace.

Like many people I know, there have been times when I have regretted that Chanukah competes with Christmas.

The holidays are so different: while Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, Chanukah celebrates heroism and bravery in the face of King Antiochus, the Seleucid king who wanted to destroy the Jewish people.

The rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 164 BCE restored holiness, justice and integrity after a tumultuous war that also pitted Jewish loyalists against Jewish Hellenists.

If any Jewish holiday were to compete with Christmas, I would point to Sukkot, not Chanukah. When we build a sukkah -- choosing the greens to cover the roof, decorating the sides with paintings, fruit and paper chains -- it's as close as we ever come to decorating a Christmas tree.

Holiday Stands on Its Own

Chanukah can't really compete with other Jewish holidays, either.

On Chanukah, we have festive meals together, but they are nothing like the ones we savor on Passover -- a joyful celebration of freedom and spring with an elegant seder and the story in the Haggadah.

Chanukah offers neither the drama of divine revelation on Shavuot, nor the personal challenge of repentance on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

In spite of the other holidays that seem to dwarf Chanukah, it still lies in a class by itself. It doesn't need to compete with Christmas or any other Jewish holiday. Chanukah is filled with prayer to God; joyful and goofy songs; the daily recitation of Hallel, or psalms of praise; a daily Torah reading; and nightly candle-lighting. All of these rituals set the holiday apart from regular weekdays.

Chanukah strikes me as a special opportunity to celebrate the uniqueness of our history and the possibility that each one of us can dedicate ourselves to bringing light to the world.

To make sure that we have enough light in my family, we are going to pick up a few extra boxes of Chanukah candles to ensure that we have enough for all those new menorahs in our house. And we are all looking forward to the glow.

Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston, director of Jewish studies at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, is the author of Sowing the Seeds of Character: The Moral Education of Adolescents in Public and Private Schools.

 

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