Near the end of the calendar year, the Jewish festival of Hanukkah is celebrated. As many people know, this eight-night holiday commemorates the rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabee and his followers, after enemy soldiers had desecrated the holy place. Each night, another candle is lit on the menorah to remember the miracle of the oil in the temple that should have lasted only one night, but burned for eight nights, until new olive oil could be pressed to replenish it. For modern day Jews, the candles often take on other meanings as well. Rabbi Ebn Leader, of Hebrew College in Newton, Massachusetts, gives these thoughts:
“And this is the meaning of our Hanukah candles. Night after night in the darkest moments of the year we light small flickering flames till by the end of eight days we have kindled a total of thirty-six lights to remind us of the initial experience of unlimited light. And we are not allowed to use these candles, for they are not there to help us overcome the darkness. Rather they are there to help us accept the darkness, to celebrate that work which we can do by accepting our limitations and the great freedom that will grow from them. These are the candles with which we relinquish the attempt to conquer the world through technology and to harness it to our perceived needs and aspirations. These are the candles with which we humbly celebrate the cycles of nature through darkness and light, through winter and summer, through life and death. These are the candles of embracing our own fear and growing through it. If I may offer my own translation for a prayer commonly said when lighting the candles – ‘For these candles that we light are holy and we do not use them to assert authority over the world, but rather to observe them, for that enables us to be grateful and to praise your holy name.’ May we all be privileged as we watch the Hanukah flames to let go of our need to use the world, to relinquish our imagined authority over life and death, and to be strengthened by the beauty of the course of the world with its light and darkness. May we be privileged to see the flickering of those thirty-six hours of light in our lives, and may we create more and more options for those flames to be seen and remembered.”Amen.