Got light? I feel grumpy as the daylight shortens. I spend less time outside; the vegetable garden is mostly dormant — thanks to kale for carrying on — and I miss the chance to sit comfortably on the back porch with friends to avoid indoor contact and stay healthy in pandemic times. So, Hanukkah 2021 has come at just the right moment to remind me that there is light in dark times.
This year, I am inspired once again by the unlikely triumph of a small band of hill fighters, the Maccabees, who drove out the Syrian Greek army that invaded Jerusalem. I recall the sweet story of the tiny pot of oil that lasted not one but eight full days to rekindle the Temple menorah and rededicate the Temple that had been desecrated by the invaders. Here are a few more of my favorite Hanukkah stories about light.
One Hanukkah story tells of the first human beings on the very first day of their existence. They are fearful when the sun sets. The next day, when the sun rises again, they learn that the disappearance of the light is part of a daily cycle of light and dark. The light comes back, hallelujah!
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Another Hanukkah story tells of two great, ancient sages of the Jewish tradition, Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai, who disagreed about how to light the Hanukkah menorah. Shammai said that one should start with eight candles and decrease each day. He reasoned that it was akin to the number of bulls sacrificed in the Temple for the harvest festival of Sukkot, decreasing by one each day, according to the Hebrew Bible. In contrast, Hillel proposed that we should begin with one candle and increase each day, always increasing in holiness. I am grateful that we follow Hillel's practice. It is uplifting to see the light increase each night until the menorah glows magnificently with all of its candles.
This year, I remember my grandmother's modest pressed-metal menorah, layered with colorful candle wax from many years of Hanukkah lighting. She purposely left the wax from year to year, transforming a simple menorah into a wonderful, waxy waterfall of color.
Today, I am hopeful that we will emerge from the pandemic and resume healthy, more spontaneous, and interactive lives.
Today, I dream of warm sun, ripe cucumbers and tomatoes, and fresh greens and fragrant herbs. I even want, yes, yearn for too much zucchini.
What will the next seasons bring us? I dream of harmony and good communication among us. I dream of religious freedom that respects my Jewish values and does not impose the values of one religious group upon others. I dream that we can be good neighbors even if we don't have the same political leanings. I dream that people of all colors, all ethnic and religious groups, all gender identities, and all economic statuses feel safe and supported. I dream that we see each other as reflections of the Divine and that it guides all of our actions.
Rabbi Laurie Franklin can be reached at email@example.com.