Each year, as we gather around the menorah, we are offered a chance to engage in something magical.
In our school community, we view traditions as a vehicle through which we can access values. One of the foundational values we find in many of our celebrations is community – we are granted a reason to come together as a family, class, or school, and enjoy each other’s presence. It is important that as we enact different traditions, we bring with ourselves the capacity to search and find the values that they allow us to access. Our students have been engaged in this work for the past several days, as their class discussions and play have revolved around the upcoming holidays and why they are celebrated.
Lighting the menorah brings with it the value of illuminating dark places. It is no coincidence that Chanukkah arrives as the sun sets earlier and the night grows longer. As we are faced with an increasingly dark world, the menorah gives us a chance, however brief, to focus on light. Joel Grishaver, in his book 40 Things You Can Do To Save The Jewish People, writes that perhaps this tradition arose out of “the fear that night will last forever.” Our Jewish ancestors, he continues, used “the primal sense of light” to combat this fear.
We, too, are often afraid the darkness will override the light. Natural disasters, personal strife, and the incessant focus in local and national news on violence and corruption: the world can appear to be a pretty dark place. The Maccabees, all those centuries ago, faced a world of destruction and intolerance. Yet they found that their hope could override the darkness. This value has been passed down to us through the lighting of the menorah. The light of a candle, no matter how small, pierces through the darkness that surrounds it.
When your child brings home a menorah they have worked hard on at school, they are bringing home more than a traditional object. They are bringing home a way to access this value. Through the menorah, it is our hope that your family may find the occasion to celebrate hope and light. You may find it powerful to turn down the lights in your apartment as you get ready to use the menorah next week, and note with wonder how a small flickering flame gives you the power to fight back the darkness.
That moment gives us the power to turn our personal light into other areas of despair. What parts of our lives do we need to let light into? What relationships, projects, or journeys of ours have become dark and deserve their own candle? Lighting the menorah is our chance to ask these questions as individuals, as a family, and as a school community.
Ghandi once said, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won.” The ritual of lighting the menorah helps ensure that we will always remember that love and hope have history on their side.