NOVEMBER 29, 2018 – It is interesting that Chanukah falls at a time of year when (for those of us on the East Coast) often there is snow. It is a time when the chill of the winter starts to seep deep into our bones.
It’s a time when you want to cozy up to the fireplace, or put on something warm, drink something hot, and just leave the cold outside, while remaining warm inside.
Chanukah, our most widely observed holiday, reminds us to not be selfish with our light, our heat, our warmth, and to go outside and share the warmth with the world. While Chanukah is a Jewish holiday, its universal message of light over dark can be extended to all. As a small flame can brighten up a large area of darkness, as did the small band of Maccabees conquer the large army of the Hellenist Greeks, so too our small act of light and warmth can brighten up and warm all those around us.
Locally, and nationally, the deep frigid feel of anti-Semitism has reared its ugly head again. The biting air of anti-Semitism is freezing on our faces: On a large scale in Pittsburgh, in Europe it is ever present, and locally it has arrived in the form of hate symbols and swastikas in area schools.
You just want to curl up and hide away, and get out of the cold and into a warm and safe space. Perhaps if I put on a coat and warm my innards, hide my Jewish identity, not display my Jewishness to the outside, the bitter chill of hate won’t touch me! I will be safe and protected from the disturbing elements.
There are two basic reasons why we should not be in darkness or denial on Chanukah:
1. Those who hate Jews don’t care if you look Jewish, observe, and practice Judaism. They hate that you exist. They hate Jews wherever they are and however they exist.
2. When you hide away, you give them the win. They celebrate when you go underground and into hiding. Rather than hide from our Judaism, we need to lean into our Judaism.
We are blessed to live in a country that has allowed for the best possibilities for Jews since the beginning of our people (save perhaps, during the times of King Solomon and the Temple).
Chanukah has a unique feature that is unique to this holiday. It is called pirsumei nissa, which means publicizing the miracle. Now, there is more than one miracle in the story of Chanukah. There is the miracle of the oil burning for eight days instead of one that we all know about. There is the lesser-known story, referenced above, of Judah the Maccabee, whose small army vanquished the large army of the Greeks.
Yet the mitzvah to publicize the miracle is not about the military victory, it is about the lights. Why focus on only half the story? Why do you see public menorahs and lightings (see northshorechanukah.com for a full listing) everywhere, but we don’t see any victory scenes or reenactments?
There are many answers discussed by our sages, but today I will offer my own explanation based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe of righteous memory.
The victory of a Jew is more than just a physical victory. It is a spiritual and emotional and psychological victory. To win a war is critical, but there is, sadly, always another one after it. The fuel (pun intended) that energizes us to keep on battling is the spiritual victory. That is better represented in the miracle of the oil.
This year, today, is our Chanukah moment. We need to find our inner oil and go out and anoint it and show it to the world – loud and proud. Our lights are bright, and no amount of hate will extinguish them. Not only will we not hide inside but we will go out to the world with our light, and truly be a light unto the nations. Not just conceptually, but literally.
Wishing all a happy, light, and bright Chanukah!
Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman is the director of Chabad of Peabody.