This year at sunset, on the night of December 2, we began our annual celebration of the first of our post-biblical celebrations. The biblical text does not talk about the Hanukkah holiday and what we know about it comes to us through non-biblical sources.
We have much of what we know about the origins of Hanukkah from the apocryphal books called: The Books of Maccabees I and II. These two books tell us the story of the struggle of the Hasmonean “family” to liberate the Temple (Beit Ha’Mikdash) from the Greek-speakers “asirlos.” We find in these books the oldest references to the Hanukkah festival.
In addition to their importance as a historical source, they also have a lot to teach us about life. For example, they remind us that when we suffer a loss we cannot allow ourselves to be defined, instead of focusing on the sad we must think about the future. The Hanukkah holiday, which means “re-dedication” serves as a lesson in life. It teaches us that when faced with rage or a tragedy we cannot allow ourselves to go into mourning, but we must find a way to live again.
They also remind us that the sacred is everywhere. A sacred site is not only a specific place, rather, as our patriarch, Jacob expressed with such wisdom: “G-d was in this place and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16). G-d and miracles are ubiquitous, we should only have the wisdom to recognize them.
They also teach us the importance of lighting the flame of personal passion. It’s too easy to say “I cannot” or “I’m going to fail”. The miracle of Hanukkah teaches us that negativity extinguishes the light of hope. In the case of Hanukkah, the fact that the sacred oil lasted 8 days instead of a day, but when determining how desperate the situation was, were willing to try. This celebration asks us if we know how to replace the concept of “I cannot” with “I can”.
The meaning of the celebration goes far beyond that of a mere story or even a miracle. In many ways, Hanukkah symbolizes the beginning of hope for a world in which each person is free to be who he or she is. Hanukkah “fights” against hate. It is the hatred that we recently saw in the shooting of the Pittsburgh Synagogue. Hanukkah reminds us that we are not all the same but we have the same rights to live in peace.
Let’s hope that the Hanukkah holiday brings their message of peace and justice to all.