In Light of Hanukkah
We all know the Hanukkah basics: The Festival of Lights that commemorates the Maccabean revolt against the Greek rulers who killed Jews for practicing their faith; that celebrates the victory against oppression, the restoration of Jewish sovereignty, the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the one-day supply of oil that miraculously burned for eight days.
Lighting the hanukkiyah is one of the most widely observed Jewish rituals. Those who have gone beyond Hanukkah 101 know why the holiday was historically considered a minor festival and also understand the forces of the last century that have elevated its profile. And then there is the ultimate in holiday polarization—latkes or sufganiyot?
But I want to focus on the lights. Because major or minor, light is the element that makes Hanukkah perhaps the most holistic holiday of the Jewish calendar.
Light—physical and abstract, spiritual and rational—is at the center of Jewish civilization and human advancement. Our history begins with “Let there be light.” Light is the genesis of the world, the symbol of creation and wisdom. The Enlightenment is the name given to the philosophical renaissance of ideas that promoted science, freedom and tolerance. The ner tamid of the Temple in Jerusalem—the one that the Greeks extinguished and the Jewish uprising restored—is the symbol of God’s eternal presence.
That flame lights our way not only in the darkness of December but through the darkness that is ever present in the world—in the form of war, oppression, cruelty, hatred, injustice, ignorance and disease.
Hanukkah is connected to all of this. That cruse of oil lasted much longer than eight days—it was part of a continuum of light that continues to illuminate our path today. In kindling the menorah, we recreate the pivotal moment when the symbolic light above us went out but our inner light sustained us until we could push back the darkness.
Whenever we work, alone or in association, for the progress of humanity, for rights, prosperity, education or health, we light the way toward the fulfillment of creation.
There are many great organizations, in the Jewish world and the wider universe, that work for tikkun olam. One reason, maybe the key reason, I feel so fulfilled in Hadassah is that it gives me a role in bettering the lot of both the Jewish people and all of humanity.
When doctors and nurses in our hospitals save lives or bring new life into the world, we are shining a light that heals not only individuals but also a society.
When Hadassah researchers develop new treatments and diagnostic tools, they shine a light inside the human body, seeing what has never before been seen, that redounds to the benefit of all.
When Hadassah educates professionals at our schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, public health and occupational therapy, or when we educate and nurture at-risk youngsters in our Youth Aliyah schools, we are illuminating the path for people who will have better lives and also enable them to help others.
When Hadassah—on its own and in coalition with other organizations—advocates for research funding, heart health, breast cancer awareness, literacy, voter registration, combatting of anti-Semitism, racism and gender inequity, when we engage with our elected representatives and act on the world stage in support of causes that express our highest values, we are shining a light on our own path and for those we seek to persuade.
When we advocate on behalf of the Jewish state, we magnify and strengthen Israel’s position, and mission, as a light unto the nations.
For the sake of our values and our posterity, we carry the torch that points to justice and progress—for ourselves and the world. Israel and the Jewish people have been indispensable sources of light to humankind. This didn’t start or end with Hanukkah, but the Festival of Lights is a joyous symbol that explains it all.