Leaving the Light On
Rabbi Bill S. Tepper
As I write these words, the dining room of our home is being prepared for Hanukkah: several boxes of candles [we will light a number of our hanukiyot, all acquired in different places over the years; hence the need for an abundance of candles] have been purchased and are waiting to be lit. The hanukiyot themselves – one of hammered metal in the shape of a moose, with antlers for candleholders, and amazingly discovered in a second-hand store in rural Georgia – have been taken from their shelves, cleaned of last year’s wax, and are ready to display in our window. There are the obligatory chocolate coins in gold foil. Meanwhile, the kitchen will shortly begin to emit the familiar and gratifying aroma [soon to spread throughout our entire home] of potato latkes frying in oil.
Though not ordained in the Torah, nor anywhere in the Hebrew Bible, Hanukkah is among our Jewish tradition’s most-beloved of holidays: candle lighting, songs, delicious foods and the gathering of families and communities in celebration. And what are we celebrating? It is at this time of year, as we experience the least amount of daylight, that we rejoice in the eight-day glow of Hanukkah candles. The warmth of the candles stirs our hearts and spirits; it stirs our love and affection for Judaism. It reminds us of where we came from, where we are now and who we aspire to become as participants in the strengthening of both our Jewish and larger non-Jewish communities.
And Hanukkah is also about remembrance, remembrance being imperative to our Jewish view of the world. As taught in the Talmud and Apocryphal Book of Maccabees – the sources of the Hanukkah story – our ancestors in the Second Century BCE overcame forces of oppression, restored the Temple in Jerusalem and dedicated themselves – ‘dedication’ being the English translation of Hanukkah – and their sacred building to serving the God of Israel and perpetuating Jewish life. In other words, instructing the rest of us, their descendents, that long after the eight days of Hanukkah conclude, the light of our Judaism remains on.
We must leave the light on, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year: the light of our cherished Jewish traditions and rituals. The light of our wonderful Jewish calendar with its many special days. The light of learning, both Jewish and otherwise. The light of our beautiful Hebrew language, the voice uniting Jewish people everywhere. The light of love and affection for the people and land of Israel, our once and forever Jewish homeland. And the light of memory: the recollection of our most despairing tragedies and extraordinary successes.
Ensure then, that the light of Judaism in your life – and within the lives of those with whom you share the blessings of Temple Shalom and the Winnipeg Jewish community – remains on year-round. Celebrate and commemorate at every opportunity. Teach your children – and keep learning yourselves, too. Maintain an open mind, heart and spirit at all times. And embrace the glow and warmth of the Hanukkah light with the love of which it so deserving.