Facing Darkness Together

Chanukah is the most Jewish holiday there is. It’s not only because family comes together or because we eat a lot of food, or even because dreidl is one of the most well known Yiddish words, but rather because of an underlying belief that the Jewish people have held connected to the meaning of the holiday: that even in the darkest of times it is possible to have hope.

I learned from my teacher at JTS, Rabbi David Hoffman, that there is a different side of the long-lasting-oil-miracle story as described by Jacob Falk (1680–1756, Poland), better known by the title of his book, the Penei Yehoshua.

He teaches that there is a law in the Babylonian Talmud (5-7th century, compilation of rabbinic discourse) which teaches that objects rendered impure can still be used for communal needs (BT Yoma 6b). Following that teaching, the fact that only one container of pure oil was found should not have been a concern to the Israelites that wished to rededicate the temple. They could have used any of the oil that they found in the desecrated temple- pure or impure. Seemingly, the miracle of the pure oil lasting for eight nights was unnecessary!

So if the pure oil was not necessary for lighting the menorah, what was the purpose of the miracle? The Penei Yehoshua teaches that God kept the oil lasting for eight nights to remind the Israelites that God was still with them. After the battle with the Greeks, the war-weary Israelites needed a reminder that God was with them in order to give them the inner strength they needed to re-engage with the sanctity of life.

Chanukah comes at the darkest time of the year and the darkest time of the month when the moon is almost completely hidden. And yet we light a candle to mitigate this darkness and bring our candles together to remind ourselves that all we need to bring a miracle is one light.

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