Hanukkah-A miracle For our time

We are approaching the celebration of Hanukkah, known as the celebration of the reopening of the Temple, but also as the Festival of Lights. In the Northern Hemisphere, the idea of a Festival of Lights is common to various peoples since during this period the nights are the longest and coldest of the year. In the Southern Hemisphere, however, we have many very bright days and short nights. Thus for us, in the Southern Hemisphere, the literal idea of a celebration that illuminates and warms our homes needs to be put into a new context. My suggestion is that the Festival of Lights illuminates not only the homes, but the souls and that it warms our hearts and enlightens our Jewish values, so that they may be read in light of the times and places in which we liveThe Word Hanukkah literally means to Dedicate, since the holiday celebrates the rededication of the Temple after it was profaned by the forces of Antiochus IV in the year 164 BCE. Some people interpret the term Hanukkah as the junctions between the verb chanu (they rested) and the last two letters of the word, kaf + he, which represent the number 25, since the Maccabees rested in the Temple on the 25th day of Kislev.

Hanukkah is one of the few Jewish holidays not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. The first documentation known arises only 250 years later, with the reports of the historian Flavio Josefo (Yossef ben Matitiahu), who refers to it as Chag Haurim, the Festival of Lights. One century later, the holiday received the name for which it would become better known: Hanukkah, the name given in the rabbinical sources. These same rabbinical sources do not speak of the whole complicated mission of the Maccabees to reconquer the Temple from the hands of the Seleucids. Instead, they prefer to concentrate on the miracle of the small container of oil specially prepared to maintain the candles of the Menorah lit, whose oil lasted eight times longer than expected, allowing them to prepare more oil without leaving the Menorah – and the Temple – in the dark. The first report of this miracle is registered in the Talmud, 600 years after the time of the reconquest of the Temple by the Maccabees whose leaders came from families of priests.

According to our rabbis, (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 21b), the lights of Hanukkah should not be lit only inside the home, facing the inside. On the contrary, they should be placed in the widows, so that the lights may brighten the world around us.

A central point of the Hanukkah celebration is the meaning of the duty of the Jewish people to preserve their identity when faced with the threats of assimilation of customs different from ours and the loss of that which defines us as Jews. Curiously, the same Hanukkah lights that try to distinguish us are very similar to the lights of the celebrations of other religious groups who also take advantage of the time of the year to make their homes and streets brighter. Thus, what is the Hanukkah message for us today? Should we distinguish our lights from the lights of others? Or should we add our lights to the lights of the other peoples?

Looking from afar, it is hard to tell the difference between our lights and the lights of others during this time of the year. They are all beautiful, colorful and they brighten life in moments of darkness and sadness. However, looking closer, we can see that each group has its own flame, its own soul. But to notice this one needs to look closer, be closer.

During this period of Hanukkah may we be able to get closer to our lights, to our Jewish souls. Let us illuminate our deepest ethical values with practical attitudes and place lights in the windows of our homes, schools and communities. May the lights of Hanukkah inspire us to become a light not only for ourselves but for those all around us. This way we will be able to understand each other better and respect each other more without losing that which defines us as individuals and as a people. If this happens, we may be able to say nes gadol haia pó, a big miracle occurred here.


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