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December 06, 2012 - Image 45

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-12-06

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Chanukah Lessons

Holiday traditions offer us ways to learn and grow.

Ellen Frankel and
Rabbi Baruch HaLevi
Special to the Jewish News


he eight-day holiday of Chanukah
begins on the Hebrew date of 25
Kislev, and lasts for eight days.
This year, the holiday is celebrated from
Dec. 8-16.
The story of Chanukah chronicles the
four-year war that took place between
167-163 B.C.E. as oppressed Jews strug-
gled under the rule of Antiochus IV of
the Syrian-Greeks. Jews were forbidden
to follow their ritual observances, and
pagan worship was introduced into their
sacred Temple. It is also about a civil war
between those Jews who aligned them-
selves with the Greek-Syrian ways and
the Maccabees, a small group of Jews who
resisted such assimilation.
The holiday culminates in the rededicat-
ing of the Temple in Jerusalem and relight-
ing the seven-branched eternal light.
The Chanukah story offers lessons for
people of all faiths wrestling with challeng-
es today. Here are five ideas the Festival of
Lights can teach us:
Moving from darkness to light: We
have all experienced dark periods in our
lives. Sometimes that darkness stems from
an individual struggle, like the loss of a
job, a loved one or a sense of life's purpose.
At other times, it is a collective darkness,
like the kind we experienced on Sept. 11,
2001, and in its aftermath. When darkness
spreads, it can lead to despair and hope-
lessness, and it is important to recognize
that place before we can transcend it.
Sometimes, the situation calls for outward
action; other times, what is needed is
inward reflection.
When the Maccabees revolted against
the darkness imposed upon them, they
chose outward action. When it came time
to rededicate both themselves and their
Temple, they called upon inward meditation
to take the first step of faith by using the
tiny amount of available oil to reignite the
sacred light of the Temple and to rekindle
their souls. As the story of the miracle of
Chanukah goes, they only had enough
sacred oil for one day, but the oil burned for
eight days — long enough to make more oil.
During Chanukah, the shamash, or
helper candle, is used to light an addition-
al candle each night culminating in eight
burning flames and reminding us that, by
simply lighting one candle, we have the
opportunity to light many candles. In that
lighting, we see that our own light is never
diminished when we share our light with

Ellen Frankel and Rabbi Baruch HaLevi

Standing up to oppression: Chanukah
also is a story about seeking freedom in
times of tyranny. Though small in number
against a powerful group, the Maccabees
fought to regain their rights and, in the
end, triumphed as they reclaimed their
Temple. These were ordinary people with
extraordinary courage and commitment
to fight for their freedoms.
Today, we see people both at
home and abroad who are
oppressed and marginal-
ized. We are reminded
that it is incumbent
upon us, ordinary men
and women, to fight
for justice where we
see injustice, and for
liberty where we
see oppression. As
Rabbi Hillel so
famously said,
"If I am not for
myself, who will
be for me? If I am only
for myself, what am I? And if not
now, when?"
Finding the balance: The concept of
assimilation figures largely in Chanukah.
How does a community or a group main-
tain its identity in relation to the culture
at large? How much will it resist outside

influences and how much will it embrace
those influences? When the Maccabees
revolted against the Syrian-Greeks, they
were also revolting against a Hellenistic
culture and philosophy. Yet, as a result of
living within the culture at large, Judaism
moved from being philosophically illiter-
ate to becoming a systematic and coher-
ent faith. From the Greeks, and later the
Romans, they learned the principles
of legal interpretation that
became the method of
interpreting Jewish law in
the Talmud.
Many of the words central
to the Jewish faith are Greek
words, such as synagogue,
Diaspora, Sanhedrin (the
Rabbinical high court) and even
the word Judaism itself. Just as it
is important to find the balance
of retaining one's culture and tra-
dition while also being open to the
gifts of the larger community, so,
too, must we find this balance in our
personal relationships. How do we
connect with others without losing
Taking the first step: Every day we are
faced with daunting tasks. Solving the
deficit, fighting discrimination, ending
wars and seeking a more peaceful world.

It can feel overwhelming. As the story
of Chanukah goes, when the Maccabees
returned to their Temple after the war, the
first thing they needed to do was to relight
the eternal flame. But adequate oil was
not available. It would be easy to despair
after years of fighting, yet they commit-
ted themselves to starting the process of
rededicating by taking it one day at a time.
Whether factually true or not, we cel-
ebrate the belief that the oil miraculously
burned for the needed eight days. But the
miracle only happened after people took
the first step. In this story, we are reminded
of the words of the Talmud: "It is not upon
you to finish the work, but you are not free
to ignore it" We each have a role to play in
creating a better world by taking that first
step, and then the next and the next.
Seeing the miracles: The idea of mir-
acles surround the holiday season. Jews
celebrate the oil that burned brightly for
eight days. When the menorah is lit, an
opportunity is provided to tap into the
miracle of light shattering the darkness
and opening up a world of possibilities.
This time of year is about the movement
from darkness to light in both the spiritual
and material worlds, and is strengthened
by one's own faith while creating space
and celebration for the faiths of others. We
reignite the flame of awe for the miracles
before us every day when we open our
eyes and our hearts. Albert Einstein said,
"There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle. The
other is as though everything is a miracle:'
Too often, the holidays have become
commercialized and the season can feel
pressured with shopping, rushing and
planning. Taking a step back can offer the
opportunity to connect with the wisdom
of tradition and to rekindle the spirit of
today and the hope of tomorrow.

Ellen Frankel and Rabbi Baruch HaLevi are

co-authors of Revolution of Jewish Spirit:

How to Revive Ruakh in Your Spiritual Life,

Transform Your Synagogue & Inspire Your

Jewish Community (Jewish Lights 2012). Learn

more at www.revolutionofjewishspirit.com .

Tell Us Your Miracles
At Chanukah, a time of miracles, the

JN is interested in your miracles. If
you have been touched by a miracle
and want to share, please email a
150-word description of the miracle,
plus your mobile number and a
photo of yourself, to Keri Guten
Cohen at kcohen@renmedia.us .
Deadline is Monday, Dec. 10, at 1 p.m.

December 6 • 2012


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