Hanukkah candles burning bright

Hanukkah began Tuesday evening.

It was the first night of Hanukkah. Our house, and everything in it, had burned to the ground the month before in the Malibu-Topanga Wild Fires of 1993. That evening, at a gathering with other victims of the fire (both Jews and Gentiles), and prior to our discussion of reconstruction issues, I lit the first candle on our newly acquired menorah and shared this interpretation of the meaning of Hanukkah as related to me by a local rabbi. It inspired us all at a time when we deeply needed inspiration, and I hope it will do the same for you.

“Rabbi,” asked a small child on the first night of Hanukkah, “Why do we celebrate this holiday?”

“On one hand,” he began, “Hanukkah recognizes the Maccabees who won a miraculous victory with a small, but determined group of Jewish fighters over the large and powerful Greco-Syrian army. Against great odds, Judah Maccabee and his followers succeeded to win religious freedom and national independence for the Jews of Judea in 164 BCE. A miracle!”

“On the other hand,” he continued in typical rabbinic fashion, “Hanukkah also celebrates the re-consecration of the temple, where, after the war, the Maccabees found just one flask of oil remained intact, only enough to rekindle the Everlasting Light for one night. Then, to everyone’s amazement, this sacred light continued to burn for eight nights, more than enough time for more to be found. Also, a miracle!”

“But,” he continued, “there is another way to understand this holiday. If you combine the underlying ideas of these two explanations, you can truly grasp the meaning of Hanukkah.”

The first story reminds us to believe in ourselves, and in our God-given ability to prevail over apparently insurmountable odds.

The second story symbolizes our ability to survive the often cruel and meaningless twists of fate we experience in daily life. That when even we are at our lowest ebb, feeling that we may not have the energy to survive even one more day, we, like the single flask of oil, have within us the “energy” required to carry on as long as necessary.

May your Hanukkah lights burn long and bright.

-Karen and Arnold York