Sunday, November 23, 2014 Kislev 1, 5775

Don't Let Light Go​ Out

December 10, 2009
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Chanukah conjures up so many conflicting images in our world. We often fret that this relatively insignificant holiday on the Jewish calendar gets far too blown out of proportion in an effort to compete with the effusiveness and glitter of Christmas. But even in our rightful haste to distance our celebration from Christmas, we should embrace the enriching beauty of the Festival of Lights.

Beyond the rituals of the lights, the latkes, and yes, even the presents, the story of Chanukah teaches us -- and our children -- important lessons about Jewish perseverance and resilience, about the triumph of spirit over power, of ritual over assimilation and of light over darkness.

And, of course, there are the miracles. There's still a debate about exactly which big Chanukah miracle our tradition refers when we speak of the nes gadol that happened in Jerusalem some 2,200 years ago.

Was it the victory of a small band of Jews, the Maccabees, over the powerful Greek army that occupied the land? This tiny minority of Jews rebelled against the Greek efforts to strip the people of their religion and their rituals.

Was it the return to Jerusalem and the rededication of the Holy Temple that had been defiled by the Syrian Greeks?

Or was it that when the Maccabees finally liberated the Temple, they found only a small cruse of pure olive oil for fueling the menorah -- the seven-pronged candelabra that served as the eternal flame. Instead of lasting for the expected one day, according to tradition, the oil burned for eight days -- enough time in which to produce new oil.

Whatever the answer, history shows that our resilience as Jews is not a miracle. Our religion and our culture continue to burn bright because we as a people make it so. And we do this by both simultaneously holding on to our tradition and making it our own.

Just as new versions of the dreidel game incorporate environmentally friendly materials, and new songs bring rap and reggae to old and new Chanukah tunes, Judaism is in a constant state of flux and reinvention.

Jews everywhere are wrestling with what it means to be Jewish today, how to create a sense of community, how best to teach our children, how to hold on to age-old traditions in an increasingly fragmented and choice-filled world.

Judaism is about passing our heritage from one generation to the next. The story of Chanukah reinforces that long and inspiring tradition, and helps us remember why it is important.

As we continue to reinvigorate our lives, let's follow the words of a most unlikely Jewish sage, Peter Yarrow, whose Chanukah lyrics put it so well: "Don't Let the Light Go Out."

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