Eight Days, Eight Lights – Day 7

Lighting the Ḥanukkah Flame

While the coming holiday of Ḥanukkah has many facets, it is, in its very essence, the holiday for Jewish identity. Its war is the war of Jewish identity, and its victory is a victory for Jewish identity. All the rest about Ḥanukkah is incidental. There are means, there are ways, there are details, but that is the basis of Ḥanukkah.

The war itself is waged in different ways. In the time of the Hasmoneans, it was a real physical war, with a fair amount of bloodshed and killing. The war today is less bloody, but not less critical. It is the same war about identity. And the enemies are, under a different guise, basically the same enemies.

Identity is not just making a choice of a certain color or a certain form of a flag. Identity means the choice for meaningful existence. When identity is lost, whatever else remains has no meaning for the Jewish people. Today’s war is being fought to sustain Jewish identity through very hard times, times in which different levels of assimilation and the results of assimilation are assaulting the Jewish people. And in this war, it now seems that the Jewish people are surely not on the winning side.

What is important in our times, as it was in former days, is that we should be aware of the truth, the true situation that lies before us. While there are many different organizations that each deal with specific aspects of Jewish life – from giving charity to raising tulips in Israel to creating Jewish racehorses and such – our main challenge is simply that the Jewish people continue to exist. Once we know that our very existence is at stake, we can on our own, and working with others, begin to find new ways to nurture Jewish identity.

The theme of Ḥanukkah is symbolized by the story about the lamp of Ḥanukkah, in which a small amount of oil was sufficient to give light for eight whole days. But if one takes the story from the literal to the symbolic level, Ḥanukkah tells us that the small number of people involved, the small store of knowledge involved, even the small amount of good will involved, all these – when it was aroused, and when it came into some power – were enough to sustain the flame in a critical time.