Hanukkah is about the victory of the human spirit over the forces of violent tyranny that have tried to eradicate it. It is not a “Jewish Christmas” – it is older and in fact John 10:22-23 tells of Jesus’ having attended the Festival of Rededication at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Hanukkah celebrates the victory of religious freedom against powers that target for desecration precisely whatever is most deeply sacred, most cherished – and most crucial for the human spirit to have a sense of its own dignity, of a sense of oneself as a sacred being. Historically, the Seleucid Greek army that vastly outnumbered the Jews defending their sacred land, their Holy Temple, and their faith’s commitment to G-d, invaded in the year 165 B.C.E., to deliberately defile what they knew was most precious, most pure. Many at that time wanted to “go along to get along,” but a band of freedom fighter priests called the Macabees stood up to the invading enemy. The Seleucid Greeks then tried to destroy and eradicate their faith through murder and degradation, and specifically by desecrating the Holy Temple.
After the Maccabees drove out the enemy and regained the Temple, it needed to be cleansed and re-dedicated, including through ritual daily rekindling of flames in oil lamps. But the enemy had so thoroughly broken into and ripped apart the holy Temple, that only one small cruse of oil for lighting the sacred fire was found unviolated.
What was needed for the full number of eight nights was eight cruses of oil.
The miracle of Hanukkah is that the one small cruse of pure oil was able to continue for that full eight days for which that light was needed. Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man has said that this is about the human spirit’s ability to revive and to heal when the sense of depletion can be so thoroughly overwhelming. Sometimes the sense of degradation, of being violated, is so thorough, that it is nearly impossible to imagine being able to go on. From a Source beyond itself, the human spirit can be re-kindled to continue into a path of renewed life beyond what most could have imagined.
The Jewish Sages say that “even a little light can dispel a lot of darkness.” One Chabad Hassidic rabbi says that the Hanukkah lights, at this time of greatest darkness, can remind us to be the kind of person whose kind-heartedness and caring lights up their environment. At this time when so many are raw with outrage, we can remember that we are able to increase the light in such a world, knowing that “today, I can encourage somebody” with a sweet word or even a smile.
Public Menorah lightings worldwide have become increasingly well-attended in the last 45 years, and the one on the White House lawn, open to all, draws thousands of attendees, both Jewish and gentile.
Guthrie, Oklahoma’s second annual Public Hanukkah Menorah Lighting, to which Jewish Center of Indian Country invites the entire public in this faith-based part of the world, will be on the first night of Hanukkah, Sunday evening, December 22, 2019, at City Hall. Especially in this time when so many are feeling so raw and so many are frightened and feeling helpless, everyone from all the churches as well, and even those who are not church members, are invited to participate in showing solidarity in the face of forces that threaten to tear us apart.
It would in particular be good to show that we stand together in service to our same one G-d – that we are grateful for the gift of our deliverance, for the salvation that is always open to bear us up and out of what would otherwise destroy us, and to show that we are committed to together increasing the light in the world at this time of increasing darkness.
The prior Saturday, Brunch on Noble will feature traditional Holiday treats such as potato-latkes and sufganiyoth (Near East jelly-donuts) fried in oil—a traditional in commemoration of the little cruse of oil that represents the power of the human spirit to draw itself out of being crushed, through a Source beyond what it could be able to do on its own.