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December 1, 2017  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Hanukkah has message for young and old alike

By RABBI JACOB LUSKI Congregation B’nai Israel, St. Petersburg

Hanukkah has a special hold on American Jews. And I believe that it is not just because of its proximity to the non-Jewish holiday season. I think there is something for everyone in the holiday and its traditions. Very young children are fascinated by fire. The story of the miracle of the flame which burned for eight days carries an immediate impact on them. But I think there is something in that story which can appeal to people of all ages.

In the oldest records of the Maccabean victory, there is no mention of this so-called miracle. The initial legends stressed the military prowess of the Maccabees. The legend of the oil burning for eight days came to the fore some 300 years after the recapture of the Temple and the festival of rededication. The rabbis chose to emphasize the miracle because they were great pacifists. They had seen too many examples of attempts at armed rebellion resulting in great destruction. Instead, they wanted to emphasize dedication – the literal meaning of the word Hanukkah, not warfare. In so doing, they sought to stress the difference between our people and all others: Other people might trust in the power of arms, but that would never insure their survival. Our people would trust in God’s spirit, and in the process, survive.

Hundreds of years after the initial legend, the medieval rabbis proposed a midrash on a midrash: They asked why Hanukkah should last for eight days; if the oil lasted seven days longer than expected, then there was no miracle on the first day. They then provided the answer, that the miracle of the first day was the fact that the Maccabees lit the oil in the first place. It was an act of hope, performed even when it seemed futile.

Thus, we see a second – even greater – miracle performed within the first – the ability to act with hope, even when all hope seems to be gone. Perhaps this message is so subtle that it is hardly even noticed.

But the message gets across, with a meaning for many different people:

People with addictions: When they get sick and tired of getting sick and tired, there is a reason to start over, to walk the road to recovery.

Anyone who undergoes serious illness or surgery: It is not the end of your life, but rather the beginning of a new phase of life. Our capabilities are diminished, but we can still live and function with them.

People in troubled relationships: Love and marriage need tune-ups; communication and understanding do not happen on their own. When we find ourselves in times of crisis, there are ways and means to bring these precious relationships back on track.

People who have lost their youthful idealism: The scars of experience need not rob us of our idealism. Indeed, it can lead to pragmatism that will help us accomplish what, in our youthful naivete, we could not do.

Hanukkah can speak to people in every stage and situation in life. As children, we remember a simple lesson – that of the fantastic miracle. As adults, we can learn of an even greater miracle – the ability to act with hope, even when hope seems to be gone. If we can learn this lesson, we learn new meanings for the second blessing which we recite on this holiday: Praised is God…who performed miracles for our ancestors in days of old, and who continues to perform them for us at all times.

Happy Hannukah!

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board. The views expressed in the column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Press or the Board of Rabbis.

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