Rabbi’s Chanukah Message, December 2023

In times of chaos and suffering our tradition instructs us in this manner: be steadfast in your faith, increase your study and prayers, and give tzedakah to those
in need. We stand at such a crossroads at this moment in history. Israeli families (and our relatives) live in terrible tumult; more than a quarter of a million Israelis have been forcibly displaced from their homes. This is in part due to the barrage of more than 9,000 rockets fired by Hamas and Hezbollah at Israeli communities. All of us must be doing our utmost to support the nation of Israel. When Golda Meir was asked in October 1973 why Israel was fighting the Yom Kippur War, she answered, “Because we have nowhere else to go.” The political situation changes daily, and as I write this in early November, I pray that
as we approach the festival of Chanukah in the month of Kislev, we will witness the return of the hostages.

Of equal importance is the safety of our college students in American universities. The anti-semitism on college campuses is not new, but it is time that we spoke forcefully to college leaders and exhort them to protect and defend the safety and freedom of Jewish students across our
land. If you maintain connections to your school of matriculation, then write to the president/provost and insist on the protection of Jewish students at every school.

Americans imagine that Hamas’ terror is simply a Middle Eastern phenomenon—it is not! We cannot afford to witness their barbarism in our country. For a few minutes, let us turn to the Chanukah story for a measure of inspiration. To see through the darkness into the life of things is part of the uniqueness of Chanukah. The Talmud teaches that we kindle the lights for the sake ofproclaiming the miracle. Of course this miracle is that a single jar of oil lasted for eight days. But in our experience of Jewish living, the miracle means much more. There are many shades of darkness, requiring many kinds of light. The depth of night is real enough in winter, when the sun sets early and dusk seals off our houses. The long nights symbolize other kinds of darkness, for with the somnambulance of winter, comes the intimation of our own fragility. Remember the fear we experienced during the winter of 2020, as the Covid virus ravaged American households. Dark days bring loneliness, anxiety, and illness. Night can mean the absence of hope and vision. Night can imply the nemesis of good. No wonder that Elie Wiesel chose Night as the title of his terrifying account of the family’s descent into Auschwitz.

There is reason for hope, and there is reason to bring light into our homes. Place a candle in a dark room
and all at once the space begins to glow. Even a small candle illumines a large area; even a tiny flame creates community around it. The Chanukah candles remind us of that vision—that our lives require constant devotion and fortitude. That we must strive to do our best for our families and community, and bring light into our world. That first candle lit on the windowsill reminds us to be faithful; it echoes our history back to the beginning of creation, when God said: Let there be light! This connectedness is the miracle of Chanukah. Even though the oil may be insufficient, we have strength and chutzpah to enlighten those around us, and build for the future.

Sometimes the physical world imposes on us a sense of pain, isolation, and the absence of hope or relief. Sometimes we sense that absolute darkness, yet we must remain constant, and seek out the sources of light in our lives. God is merciful, compassionate, and gracious, endlessly patient, and we can strive to emulate those ideas from the book of Exodus. We need to cultivate the warmth and brilliance of the candles, and re-supply that light for the future. The candles glow with courage and hope, enabling us to uplift our community and deal with the challenges of the present moment.

From my family to yours, happy Chanukah and blessings of peace.

Rabbi Martin W. Levy

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