Hanukkah: Lighting Up The Dark

November 22, 2021

Hanukkah: Lighting Up The Dark

By Rabbi Judith Beiner

At the end of October, the holiday lights went up next door to me. My neighbor explained that “They’ll be up in time for Diwalii, and we’ll enjoy them through Christmastime.” Over the next few weeks, other homes on the street were outfitted with their holiday lights. On our small street reside Hindus, Jews, Christians and Muslims. While our practices and beliefs differ, "lighting up the darkness” is common to all of our winter celebrations.

In the Hanukkah story, when the Macabees regained control of the holy Temple from the Greeks, they found only enough oil to keep the lights burning for one day. And yet, a miracle occurred, and the oil lasted for eight days. Judaism dictates that Hanukkah lights come with specific instructions and interpretations.

The Hanukkiah, aka Menorah, must have places for nine candles – eight for each of the nights and one for the shamash/servant that lights all the others. We add light to the Hanukkiah one candle at a time, one for each night. We are to wait until it is dark outside before we light the candles, and tradition holds that while the flames are burning, we’re not to do any work. It is also customary to put the Hanukkiah in the window so as to pirsum hanes, to "publicize the miracle." In other words, the lights are meant to be enjoyed!

Many faith traditions, including Judaism, use light as a metaphor for goodness with darkness symbolizing the opposite, evil. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Laidi, one of our great Hasidic teachers taught: A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness. For us, the Hanukkah lights are a reminder of our potential to spread infinite goodness in our world, to find ways to increase light and banish away the darkness.

At a time when there is so much and turmoil in our world, we need only look to the symbolism of the lights, particularly at the time of year when the nights grow longer. As Jews light their Hanukkiot, and Indians make their homes glow with festive candles, and Christians string lights outside their homes, and African American ignite the lights of Kwanzaa, billions of people are actually working together to push back the darkness.

It is easy to forget how all of humanity is intertwined, and all that we have in common. As we join together at this festive time, may our shared task of illuminating the darkness, and our hopes and dreams for peace, prosperity and good will carry us into the coming year.