Jews around the world celebrate Hanukkah as a way to commemorate the military victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks in the year 167 BCE. Historical sources about the festival are found in the Books of the Maccabees and tell us how Judah and his brothers came to the Temple in Jerusalem, purified it and rededicated it to the service of God.
When the Maccabees entered the Temple, they found a small vessel with pure oil that was supposed to last for one day, but a miracle occurred and the oil lasted for eight days, the necessary time to manufacture new and pure oil to re-inaugurate the sanctuary.
Every year Hanukkah is celebrated close to the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, a time when days grow short and darkness covers the face of the earth. Light is a prominent element of winter holidays in different traditions and religions.
Christians, for example, light Advent candles and decorate their homes with light. The African-American celebration of Kwanzaa is also connected to the lighting of candles and it is celebrated close to the winter solstice. The increase of light during this time of the year is a powerful reminder that a small flame can illuminate our homes and give warmth to our souls.
As we move into a new winter solstice, we see with pain and sorrow how the world has been covered with evil, hatred and darkness. When I see these terrible acts of terrorism and violence, I feel saddened and powerless.
I feel sorry for the many innocent people who are killed, and I ask myself what can we do in order to overcome these terrible tragedies that are affecting so deeply the world around us. And I am reminded of a remarkable story about a man who once stood before God. His heart was breaking from the pain and injustice in the world.
“My beloved God,” he cried out, “look at all the suffering, the anguish and distress occurring in the world. God, why don’t you send some help?” To which God responded, “I did send help. I sent you.”
I believe we are here, in this world, to make a difference. We are here not as mere passengers on a meaningless journey. We are in this world to share light, to share love, to work together for a better society and a world in peace.
Regardless of our religion and faith, this holiday season is an invitation to spread light amidst the darkness. As days grow short and the air chills, the celebration of Hanukkah invites us to continue kindling together the flame of hope. For eight days a year we are reminded of the words of the Mishna: “It is not upon you to finish the work, but you are not free to ignore it” (Pirkei Avot 2:16).
As we move into a new holiday season, may God bless us with vigor and strength to continue working together for a better society and a better world.