“A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.” — Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi
This year, the beginning of Hanukkah falls on the evening of December 12th. Bonita and I look forward to this wonderful holiday every year because of the powerful message it brings. On the surface, Hanukkah is about lights, fried foods (because of the oil), playing with dreidels, and enjoyable songs. The deeper message of Hanukkah is to do what is right, no matter the odds.
At the school where I work, we have been studying the book, “Twelve Angry Men” by Reginald Rose in English class. The story is about a young man who is on trial for killing his father. The initial vote by the jury is 11 to 1 in favor of guilt. Juror eight votes not guilty. “A young man’s life is on the line, I believe we should at least discuss it,” Juror eight states. Throughout the rest of the story, he is able to point out the flaws in the evidence. At the end, a crumpled up paper on the jury table said “not guilty” indicating the jury had voted for an acquittal. Sometimes standing up for what is right against overwhelming odds is extremely difficult, but this is the essence of the Hanukkah story.
The holiday’s history is about how the Syrian-Greeks, who controlled Israel under Antiochus in 167 B.C.E., had attempted to outlaw Jewish people’s beliefs and defiled their Temple. A man named Mattathias and five of his sons rallied Israel to fight the mighty Syrian-Greek Army. After three years of intense fighting, they were able to take back Jerusalem and the Temple in 164 B.C.E. The story goes that when they went to rededicate the Temple by lighting the lamps before the Holy Place, they had only enough oil for one day, but the oil burned miraculously for eight days. Even in the Christian Bible, the Apostle John references Jesus walking in the Temple during the Feast of Dedication.
We celebrate Hanukkah in the north during the long nights of late fall and early winter. The lights are a refreshing reminder, and since we add one candle every night for eight days, every day is made a little brighter. We reflect on the idea that until one candle is lit, it will always be dark. We must continue to stand up for what is right, even when it is not popular. As Robert F. Kennedy said during the Day of Affirmation Address, “Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
My commandment as a Christian is to live out my life as a light that brings glory to God (Matthew 5:16). Trusting in his enabling power (Zechariah 4:6). What is the light that we will burn, or, more simply put, what is the act of courage we will take? Sometimes the acts of courage are not as big as hiding innocent people in your home like those during the Holocaust, knowing that their discovery made result in their imprisonment or death. For me, it is often being kind to students who are more difficult than others, seeking to understand and be compassionate to the customer service person on the phone who is not giving me what I want, or when I am so focused on my project I forget to take into account that my wife needs my compassion, not my orders. God teaches us that to qualify for more responsibility from Him, I must take care of those who are closest to me first. This is written in the Christian Bible’s first letter to Timothy chapter 3. Seeking to be courageous by putting my wants on hold to meet someone else’s needs, and trusting that I will have what I need for my mission is my commitment this Hanukkah. Happy Hanukkah!