Dear Friends,

It was a joy to light the Chanukah candles with my grandchildren. They are young and so they were fascinated with the burning candles, and too young to be concerned with the meaning of this holiday. It was a joy to light the Chanukah candles with my grandchildren. They are young and so they were fascinated with the burning candles, and too young to be concerned with the meaning of this holiday. 

But what is the meaning of Chanukah. The Talmud asks: “What is Chanukah?” It’s a strange question as it doesn’t ask:  What is Purim, or Rosh Hashanah or any other holiday. We are given the following answer:

“When the Greeks entered the Temple they defiled all the oils.  Thus when the Hasmoneans grew strong and defeated the Greeks, they searched in the Temple and found only one jug of oil that had the seal of the high priest intact on it. There was enough oil in it for only one day’s lighting.  But a miracle occurred and with that oil a lamp was lit for eight days…”

There is something missing from that answer. It speaks about the great miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days but it makes no mention of the great military victory that took place:  that Judah and his brothers led a victorious military revolt against the Syrian Greeks and “the many were given over to the few.” Yes, as far as we know, Chanukah marked a great military victory–a band of Jews stood up to the mightiest empire on earth and emerged victorious. Had they been defeated, not only would it have been the end of Judaism, but Christianity and Islam never would have been born.

Simply put, this interpretation of Chanukah focuses upon Jews standing up and fighting to defend themselves against a powerful adversary that had attempted to wipe out Judaism and impose the Greek culture of Hellenism upon the Jewish people.   

Yes, I do believe that there is a “miracle” at the heart of the Chanukah story. It has to do with the few standing up against the many and keeping the sacred light of hope burning.  Yes, from generation to generation, not only children have been fascinated by the lights of Chanukah, but especially adults. For we realize that there are times in life when we need to draw upon our courage and stand up for what we believe to be right. Chanukah, more than any of our holidays, is rooted in our quest for Jewish survival; but survival with a purpose.  That purpose is to bring the light of hope and goodness to our often darkened world, and to be relentless in holding fast to our values and our visions.

This Chanukah, let us speak of a “miracle.” But let it be focused upon the strength that we possess to transform our world from darkness to light. That has always been, and remains, our Jewish purpose.  I wish you and the people you love a rich and meaningful Chanukah, as it is surely a story that speaks to all of us about confronting the challenges of life. I hope that you will join us tonight as we celebrate this wonderful and intriguing holiday.

Shabbat Shalom,

         Rabbi David Greenberg