Like the Maccabees of old, we can dispel the darkness with faith and Jewish pride

By Student Rabbi Matt Derrenbacher

With so much of our time spent in the dark (before the winter solstice occurs Dec. 21), this time of year can be particularly difficult for a lot of us.

The pandemic rages on; antisemitism continues to run rampant in communities and on college campuses; social and political division drives communities, friends and even families apart.

The pandemic rages on; antisemitism continues to run rampant in communities and on college campuses.

It is at this time of deep darkness that we need to let the light in. But how do we accomplish this difficult task?

This month, we celebrated Hanukkah, our Festival of Lights. The much-needed winter holiday is unique because it doesn’t come from the Torah, or the rest of the TaNaKh (Hebrew Bible), for that matter.

The Hanukkah story originates from its own book

The story of Hanukkah actually comes from a collection of extra-biblical writings collectively known as the Book(s) of Maccabees.

Perhaps it is in the unexpected places that we can not only receive light, but we can also be light.

So, technically, this story isn’t even a part of our canon — our codified collection of writings that we call the Bible. This means that one of our biggest sources of light in this darkest time of year comes from an unexpected place.

Perhaps it is in the unexpected places that we can not only receive light, but we can also be light.

We can be our own miracle

Hanukkah’s focus typically falls on recognition and celebration of the miracle that occurred when one small dish of untainted oil that was only supposed to last a single night instead endured for eight nights, long enough to allow manufacture of more, pure oil.

The Maccabees not only fought to defend the Temple, but were unwavering in their faith and dedication to Judaism in a time and a place that did not accept Jews or a Jewish way of life.

Yet, with all the focus on the miracle, we sometimes forget the reason for the miracle: the Maccabees not only fought to defend the Temple, but were unwavering in their faith and dedication to Judaism in a time and a place that did not accept Jews or a Jewish way of life.

It was their Jewish pride — their Jewish light — that allowed the miracle to happen.

The world’s oldest hatred persists

Today, echoes of that story that still ring true.

In the darkness of antisemitism, the world’s oldest hatred, our faith and Jewish pride remains the light that keeps us alive, l’dor va’dor, from generation to generation.

Like the Maccabees, we can bring light to our world and to the nations, simply by existing and displaying pride in our Judaism.

Like the Maccabees, we can bring light to our world and to the nations, simply by existing and displaying pride in our Judaism.

In this way, like the Maccabees, we, too, are a miracle.

So, during the darkest time of the year, as we light our Hanukkah candles and our Shabbat candles, I invite each of us to remember that it isn’t just the physical light that is the miracle, it is the fact that we, ourselves, are the light.

Student Rabbi Matt Derrenbacher will serve UHC Terre Haute during the 2021-22 academic year.

Askalon Menorah image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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