The ancient story of Chanukah has an important message for us. More than two-thousand years ago, the tide of a foreign culture swept over Israel and the Jewish people. There were those who welcomed assimilation into the culture of Hellenism. And there were the Maccabees and their followers who struggled to maintain Judaism in the face of a larger and pervasive culture. That struggle, and the victory, is the real issue behind the Chanukah story, and the issue that we confront as highly assimilated Jews in this country.
I believe that one of the great problems that we contemporary Jews are facing is that even as we know what we are against, we are not so sure of what we are for. Anti-Semitism arouses our feelings of loyalty and connection to our religious tradition, and attacks against Israel do the same.
But for so many Jews, that which is at the heart of Judaism and Jewish purpose is all but ignored or forgotten. Or as Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote: “We are as a messenger who has forgotten his message.” And without that sense of purpose, how important can Judaism really be in a person’s life? And what do they embrace and affirm?
In a world where so many people are turned against each other; in a world where there is so much moral and spiritual darkness, we Jews continue to bring a vision of light and hope for all humanity, and yes, I believe that to be our purpose and our reason for being as Jews. Judaism calls upon each of us to do our part in the quest for Tikkun Olam-fixing our world. We believe that deeds of kindness and generosity are the way in which we serve God and the embodiment of the highest holiness.
May our Chanukah flames remind us that we are a people of hope; a people with a religion that speaks to the sanctity of all life. Yes, even in the face of the different darknesses that we find in our world, we believe that each of us is called upon to be a flame of light and goodness, bringing hope and “fixing” to our ailing world.
Shabbat Shalom and a rich and meaningful Chanukah.
Rabbi David Greenberg