2012-12-12 / Religion Column

The lights of Chanukah allow us to see the extraordinary

Adath Emanu- El

As we celebrate the Festival of Lights we are reminded of the light that exists in our lives not only during this sacred holiday, but on all days. Those glowing Chanukah lights indeed open our eyes to the on-going lights of community and faith, hope and possibility. One tradition teaches us that the lights of Chanukah are not ordinary lights at all, but rather lights that allow us to see and express thanks for that which is truly extraordinary in our lives.

As Jews, our lives are predicated on thanks. The day begins with Modeh Ani, with which we thank God for the gift of another day, and ends with Shema, where we recognize with abounding gratitude a good and gracious God. Chanukah becomes holy in large part because it reminds us of our duty to be thankful. When we light the lights with our children, we cannot help but appreciate the true blessing of living in a land and at a time when we can gather and, together, sing the words our people have sung for generations, in times of peace and great hardship. Nor can we help but appreciate the gift that is being able to live a life where Jewish values are not theoretical or textual, but very real for us every day.

We are also thankful for the blessing that is our voice. To be a Jew is to use our voice for good and, with that, in the name of social justice and peace. In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Miketz, Joseph fearlessly speaks up in advising Pharaoh of the meaning of his dreams. In next week’s portion, Parshat Vayigash, Joseph will speak up in the name of forging peace among his brothers. Rather than allow them to suffer in the Pharaoh’s court, we read: “Joseph could no longer restrain himself before all who were standing in attendance… ‘I am Joseph your brother’ (Gen 45:1-4). Avraham Burg connects Joseph’s heroic admissions to Rachel, his mother, who also did not shy away from revealing her true identity and allegiance to the Hebrew God when cornered by Laban.

Joseph, like his ancestors before him, and so many prophets to follow, is not afraid to raise his voice in the name of Jewish ideals and justice. As a people, we have aligned ourselves with countless minority groups over the centuries, ensuring that equality and freedom are not simply terms, but realities. From combating bullying in our own institutions to combating prejudice in our own nation, from combating genocide on a global scale to combating singular hate crimes near and far, we are meant to be upstanders, never bystanders. From those cast out due to race or ethnicity, sexual orientation or religious views, from our own besieged brothers and sisters in Israel, to those struggling for freedom to this very day, we are meant to side with those whose life has too often been one of darkness. Judah Maccabee would inherit this tradition, as do we, bringing light to those populations otherwise denied it.

As we share the Chanukah story with our children, we share as well this Jewish mission of forever being there for the other. The heroes of the timeless Jewish saga, from Rachel to Moses, Theodor Herzl to Golda Meir, have forever reminded us that to be a Jew is to stand up for Judaism and thus to bring greater dignity, fulfillment, and peace to all.

Hag Urim Samayach, a happy and healthy Chanukah from my family to yours. .

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