Dear TEE community,
I was a rabbinical student before I had any idea that the Hanukkah story of the oil burning for eight days could be understood on more than a literal level. Not being a believer in the sort of miracle that involves suspending the laws of physics, I hadn’t given much thought to whether the teaching had deeper meaning. I then learned that the rabbis taught about the miraculous origins of Hanukkah as an alternative to celebrating a military victory. They found the violence of the Maccabees problematic and preferred to emphasize the divine power symbolized by light. For them, the flame burning for an unexpectedly long time represented the Jews’ ability to continue despite the odds.
As we move into winter and more social isolation as a result of the pandemic, I find Hanukkah’s simple ritual of kindling light in the darkness especially meaningful. The word “hanukkah” means “dedication” because the festival commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. This year it is particulalry significant to honor the dedication that is bringing us through this unprecedented time. I think of the people risking their lives to care for others, the parents educating their children while working to support them, those checking in on their neighbors, and so very many others who give us reason for hope. And it is also a time to honor the flame we have kept burning in our own hearts – the ways we have found to continue and connect despite adversity.
For the first time in my life, I will not be lighting Hanukkah candles with family and I know I am not the only one who will miss familiar traditions. But I am also happy to think about this as an opportunity to create new ones. Thanks to Zoom, we will have the chance to celebrate each night of Hanukkah in the company of our Emanu-El family. Beginning on the evening of Thursday Dec. 10th, we will have a short gathering at 6 pm to light candles, sing a song, and hear a story. (The one exception will be on Friday Dec. 11th when we will light candles at the beginning of our regular 7 pm Shabbat service.)
Each night the candles on the Hanukkah menorah increase, reminding us that soon, as the earth revolves, each day will grow longer. This week we have had news that a COVID-19 vaccine is almost available and we have reason to think that by late spring or early summer we will be able to connect with each other in person. As we light the Hanukkah candles this year, may we also nourish the flame within, sustaining ourselves as we move toward a season of healing.
Rabbi Drorah Setel