To the Editor, As we are about to celebrate Chanukah, I would like to share a few thoughts about the meaning of this festive holiday. Chanukah commemorates the dramatic victory of the Maccabees following a three-year long rebellion against the ruling Assyrian-Greek powers who set out to destroy Judaism by forbidding its observance. The courage of the Maccabees to fight for their religious convictions and their right to practice their Jewish beliefs continues to be an inspiration. The revolt culminated with the recapture and purification of the Temple of Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E. and the restoration of its traditional service. (The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication” and refers to the rededication of the Temple after it had been defiled with pagan images and practices.) In discussing Chanukah, the rabbinic sages emphasized the story about a flask containing a single day’s worth of pure oil that provided light for the newly cleansed Temple not just for that day, but for seven more, until new oil was found to keep the sacred fire burning. That is why we light candles every night for eight days. At a deeper level, one of the important messages about this holiday can speak to all of us in a profound way. Why do we light candles in an increasing number every night (one on the first night going up to eight on the last night) instead of a decreasing number? The ancient rabbinic sages’ answer: To teach us that with every day of our lives, we need to do our share to bring more light, fresh hope, more holiness, and renewed spirit into the world – by treating others with dignity and respect, doing acts of kindness, speaking out when we see injustice, being a source of warmth, caring, healing, and hope for people whose world is dark with loneliness, disease, poverty, and despair, and in so many other ways. So, this Chanukah, may we all give ourselves a real present: the gifts of hope and renewed spirit, even as the night grows darkest in the midst of winter. Let us light a candle in our souls, let the flame be a source of strength and inspiration, and let us share the light with others. As all of us in the University community celebrate our respective holidays, may the beautiful lights of this season bring joy, warmth, love, and peace to all of us, to our families and friends, and to people throughout the world.
Rabbi Meir Mitelman University Jewish Chaplain and Rabbinic Educator, Hofstra Hillel