Tonight, people around the world will be celebrating Christmas Eve, to be followed in the morning by a Christmas Day extravaganza of gifting, eating, spending time with family and friends and maybe attending a church service. For my family, tonight is the third night of Hanukkah, a fairly minor holiday within the Jewish holiday calendar, but one with some significant lessons, nonetheless.
To begin, this year the holiday falls just after the Winter Solstice, which is the day with the least amount of daylight. As we light the candles, adding one each night for eight nights, it’s easy to imagine the Menorah lighting our way in the darkest days of the year. And this lesson is the one most often discussed, that even in the darkest of times, there is light. And it’s a lovely lesson to share. But there is actually more to it than that.
The story of Hanukkah goes that when the Greeks desecrated the ancient Temple in the first Century BCE, a small but mighty band of Jewish rebels rose up and liberated it. In preparing the Temple for rededication, there appeared to be only enough oil to light the holy lamp for one day but miraculously the oil lasted for eight until more could be prepared. The Hanukkah festival was created to remember that miracle. But here’s the thing: there’s no actual proof the miracle happened and the history about the events that occurred is a bit murky, according to Jewish scholars and historians. But that’s the case with many biblical era events, isn’t it?
For me, the veracity of the story is less important than the symbolism. In addition to lighting the candles in a special candelabra, or Menorah, there is also a specific order for lighting the candles. It all starts with the Shamash, or helper candle. This one is lit first and is used to light each of the other candles. They are placed in the Menorah from right to left, with new candles being added each night. The Shamash starts lighting the newest candle first, continuing until all are lit for the night.
So many rules, amiright??? Yes, lots of rules for even the smallest task. But think about it, when there are rules it forces one to be mindful, to consider what is required and to remember. Each year my family discusses the order for lighting the Menorah and each year we discuss the meaning of the lights and we remember the story. We remember our history and our place in it, our place in today’s world and our place in our family. As we light the Hanukkah candles, we think about that small band of rebels who stood up for their beliefs and we are reminded that each of us can make a big difference it the world. And just like the Shamash, we need to help each other to be a light in the darkest of times, wherever we are and whatever is happening.
So, here’s wishing you all a season of joy and charging each of you to be a light in the darkness.
About Barbara Dab
Barbara Dab is a small business owner, journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant. She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood. Check it out at www.nashvillepilatescompany.com. She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation. The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors. Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com. If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.
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