Interfaith: God can always make light last in the midst of darkness
Updated: Dec 22, 2021
Between the recent massacre at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, the horrific shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill and the terrible fires in our area and all of California, it at first may seem difficult to get into the “holiday spirit” of Hanukkah and Christmas. But because of that darkness, it’s so important that we all truly embrace the essence of these holidays.
As a rabbi, I try to stay away from commenting on Christmas and leave that to my Christian colleagues. But Hanukkah has teachings hidden within it that have meaning for people of all faiths, especially in the wake of recent tragedies.
Most people think Hanukkah is either about giving gifts or about the military victory of the Maccabees in 167 BCE and the subsequent miracle of one day’s worth of holy oil for the eternal light of the temple lasting for eight days.
The holiday actually has biblical roots found in the book of Genesis, Chapter 50. There we find that Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes, dies on the first evening of the holiday of Sukkot.
The Egyptians mourn him for 70 days, and then the Hebrews travel, have a great eulogy and Joseph ordains that he will always be remembered for another seven days, making it a total of an eight-day festival beginning 70 days after Sukkot. If we look at the Hebrew calendar, we find that this eight-day festival begins on the first night of what we now call Hanukkah.
Our ancestors were observing a memorial for Jacob, who brought all of his children together and is known for creating spiritual community and structure. Like many cultures, Judaism lights candles in memory of our departed. The book of Proverbs teaches that “the soul of man is the candle flame of God."
So the lights that we light this week have multiple intentions. We remember how Jacob built a community; we remind ourselves of how God can always make light last in the midst of darkness; and we re-commit ourselves to bringing more light into the world.
All Jewish holidays are meta-historical, meaning that they have a base in a historical occurrence and simultaneously a teaching that can be utilized in modern times. The word Hanukkah means “dedication,” and especially after tragedies, it becomes imperative that we dedicate ourselves to our highest values — of taking care of each other, building healthy communities and respecting each other even if we disagree theologically, politically or in any other way.
We need to dedicate ourselves to these values through action, not just words. Invite someone of a different political view to your home for a holiday meal or ask if you can join them at their temple for the lighting of candles or at their church for Christmas Mass. In the wake of the darkness, we must learn to both shine our own lights and to cherish the light and beauty of our neighbors.
I enjoin everyone to both celebrate your holiday, and appreciate the holiday of others in our community. Our temple’s annual Hanukkah candle-lighting takes place at The Stonehaus at 6 p.m. Dec. 7, and I look forward to seeing members of our community from all different faiths join us in rededicating our lives to keeping the light of the holidays alive and bright … and don’t be surprised if you see me at one of your Christmas celebrations.
May our entire community be blessed with healing and joy, and may the light of this season bring us all peace, prosperity and love now and throughout the coming year.