Hanukkah reminds us to seek light, and unity, in moments of darkness

By Student Rabbi Caitlin Brazner

The days I view from my window are growing shorter and shorter. Every evening, the sun sets a little earlier. Daylight concedes to night that much sooner.

At this time of year, as darkness seems to creep up on us, we find ourselves still craving those last bits of sunshine before they disappear over the horizon. Those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere are entering the season of darkness — the time of year when light fades too soon and the stillness of night begins before we’re ready.

As winter approaches and 2020 (finally) nears its end, it’s difficult not to think back and reflect on what has been. After a year of divisive and polarizing politics, racial unrest and injustice and a global pandemic that continues to ravage our country (among other issues), I can’t help but think that our season of darkness began much sooner.

We’re grappling with the big questions

This year hasn’t been easy. We feel divided and disillusioned, disappointed and disheartened.

We are entering a holiday season that many of us, due to COVID restrictions, will be forced to spend socially distanced, if not alone. We have spent endless months grappling with big questions and big challenges; that wrestling has left us tired.

At the darkest time of year, our tradition calls for the lighting of candles in celebration of a miracle.

And yet, at the darkest (in daylight terms) time of year, our tradition calls for the lighting of candles in celebration of a miracle — a flame that lasted against all odds and provided light when we needed it most.

Hanukkah is a story of hope and renewal, of light and warmth for these coming cold nights.

Now, when we feel so divided, or lost, it is Hanukkah that reminds us we have been here before — and perhaps most importantly, that we’ve made it out the other side.

The Maccabees fought for tradition

Hanukkah recounts the story of a civil war fought between assimilating, Hellenistic Jews, backed by the Hellenistic king Antiochus, and the Maccabean traditionalists who sought to preserve their ancient Temple practices.

The Temple was rededicated; the Jewish people recommitted themselves to their Judaism.

Faced with the overwhelming Hellenistic culture that was pervading the Levant at this time, many Jews were leaving their traditions behind, choosing to join the majority rather than proudly maintain their minority culture.

After much fighting, however, it was the Maccabees, and the traditionalist Jews they represented, who came out on top. The Temple was rededicated; the Jewish people recommitted themselves to their Judaism.

An eight-day festival was then established to commemorate the great military victory of the Maccabees and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Sometime later, the miracle of the eight­-day flame was added to the story by our rabbis, rounding out Hanukkah into the celebration we know today.

Let us find new ways to welcome the stranger

At its core, Hanukkah is a tale of division that gives way to repair. It is the story of a fractured people fighting amongst themselves. It is the story of how our people fought their way through the dark back toward each other and their faith.

Hanukkah is how we remind ourselves to seek light in moments of darkness, to trust in our ability to repair, renew and rededicate ourselves to the project of Jewish life and living.

Hanukkah is how we remind ourselves to seek light in moments of darkness, to trust in our ability to repair, renew and rededicate ourselves to the project of Jewish life and living.

This year, as we face down the dark, let us remember to find the light. Let us be inspired by this coming Hanukkah celebration and recommit ourselves to the values of our tradition.

Let us find new ways to welcome the stranger, to treat others how we wish to be treated, to pursue justice.

Let us kindle warmth and gratitude and kindness. Though we may be weary, let us find strength. Let us be heartened, be comforted, be made resilient.

Offering a Reconstructionist blessing

A few years ago, the Jewish Reconstructionist movement crafted new blessings to be recited throughout the nights of Hanukkah (in addition to the traditional brachot).

The new Reconstructionist blessing for the eighth night reads, Blessed are You, Creator of Light, who has placed within us Your divine spark and who inspires us to pursue justice and seek peace.

This year, as 2021 approaches, let us be the sparks who light the darkness. Let us bring and find light that we may, one day, know peace.

Chag Sameach! Happy Hanukkah!

Student Rabbi Caitlin Brazner will serve UHC Terre Haute during the second half of the 2020-21 academic year.

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Steve Turetzky
Steve Turetzky
December 10, 2020 6:22 pm

What a well-written piece, Rabii Caitlin; thank you!
As Robert Alden has been attributed to have said, “There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle.” (https://libquotes.com/anonymous/quote/lbt4n3j).
Happy Chanukah to all!

Last edited 2 months ago by Steve Turetzky