Eight nights. Eight lights. Eight family values. Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky provides families with a way of letting their Hanukkah celebrations affirm not only their Jewish identity, but the very Jewish values they wish to transmit to their children.
The First Night,
The first Light Gevurah:
The Light of Courage
LearningJudah and his brothers—and those who fought with them—had the kind of courage that it seems like we can only read about in history books. Perhaps that is what draws us to the Hanukkah festival each year. A small group of untrained men and presumably women entered into guerrilla-type warfare with the entire Assyrian-Greek army Working in small ambush attack units, they succeeded in toppling a military giant. Through their persistence and determination, they regained control of the land of Israel. Their victory was incredible, even by the standards of modern warfare. Yet, it seems incomplete. There had to be more to their triumph than just a display of military prowess. That would seem to be insufficient to establish a festival in the middle of winter.
The rabbis agree. They wanted to steer the Jewish community clear of what was becoming a clear emphasis on the military victory of the Maccabees. Thus, the rabbis introduced the notion of spiritual strength” into the celebration of Hanukkah. Listen to the well-known words of Zechariah (from the Haftarah for Shabbat Hanukkah) that they chose as their theme: Not by might and not by power, but by My spirit, says Adonai”
(Zechariah 4:6). This is the kind of faith that the Maccabees also possessed. Perhaps it was this inner strength that really drove them to victory They won because they believed that they could win. And then they acted on that belief.
We may think that Judah and the Maccabee’s heroism is unparalleled—and it may be. But there is Maccabee strength in each one of us. We are all children of the Maccabees. As modemn Jews, living with one foot each in both the Jewish and the secular world, the challenge we face is to retap that reservoir of courage that lies hidden deep inside the recesses of our souls. During Hanukkah, as we see ourselves reflected in the simple light of the candles burning, we are able to gather the courage to meet that challenge of modern Jewish life. The Maccabean legacy lives on, but only through us.
Doing Decisions about what to do, especially to capture the spirit of the festival, are often difficult to make. The conversation usually begins, “So what do you want to do tonight?” Specific responses may vary but they frequently sound like, “There’s nothing to do.” And often that’s what happens. Nothing!
This year, we’re not going to let that happen. Not tonight, not any of the eight nights of Hanukkah. Even while the candles are still burning in the ban ukkiyah, let’s try to understand the courage of the Maccabees and use it as a model for our own lives. But remember, lighting candles is not enough. We have to do more.
The Maccabean revolt was not spontaneous. It took some time to plan, and then time to carry out. Each step required courage. All decisions require courage. Of course, some courageous acts are unplanned: those you can never rehearse. They just demand of you to be all that you can be. No one can ask for more. Tonight, gather your family—around the kitchen table. It is usually the friendliest place in the house, where most important decisions are made. Even if it is just you and one other, remember, family is family no matter who and how many live in your house. Invite your friends to join you, if you would like. You are about to make a decision that may change your life and the life of your family
What is going on in your community in your neighborhood, on your block—perhaps at school or at work—that calls to you to speak up? You realize that things need to be fixed, changed and yet you have remained silent. In the spirit of Hanukkah, with the model of Judah in front of you; you realize that it is time to take action. Discuss the challenge and possible solutions with one another around your table. Seize the decision. Make it your struggle, the one that drives your very being.
Usually we think of how little we can do in a world that is so full of daily challenges, so much in need of renewal. Yet, world repair is accomplished through the gathering of small sparks, one at a time, that together make a big light. Just as you place your hanukkiyah in the window so that others can behold the miracle of light, your action should take place where others can see it so that they can serve as witness to the miracle of light your act of courage brings to the world.