CHANUKAH - Symbolic and Spiritual Meaning
By Rabbi David Baum / January - February 2012
I am a rare breed: a native South Floridian. In fact, I never spent more than a couple of weeks outside of our state until my 20s, when I moved to New York City for rabbinical school.
In my time up north, I noticed that the winter days were much shorter than in Florida, and much colder. I quickly realized that winters were not "the most wonderful time of the year." It was during that first winter that I learned a valuable lesson: sunshine and light are not things to take for granted.
Sunshine brings us warmth and happiness. But did you know that lack of sunshine could bring on depression through seasonal affective disorder? It is hard for Floridians to imagine a life without sunlight and warmth, yet the winter brings this challenge to many people.
During the winter, Jews observe one of our most famous holidays: Chanukah, the festival of lights. We light candles on our chanukiot, a nine-branched candelabrum, successively on each of the eight days of Chanukah.
There are also specific rules as to where and when we light the candles. We are supposed to light the candles in the most visible place in our homes where passersby will see the candles. We must light the candles after the sun sets and they have to burn long enough for people to see them as they return from work. We make sure that as many people as possible see these lights in order to "publicize the miracle."
The miracle we often refer to is a story from the Talmud which states that when the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple, there was only one jug of pure olive oil left that was supposed to last one day, but actually lasted eight days.
But this is not the only miracle that we are publicizing. Look at our lives as Jews in the modern world. After centuries of persecution around the world, we are still here and living in freedom. In many ways, the Jewish people are more like the Energizer bunny than that jug of oil because we keep going and going and going.
As Jews, we have been small lights in the world, and yet, everyone sees us. In fact, we often refer to ourselves as "a light unto the nations." If you are in a completely dark room, even the smallest of flames changes everything. When we light our candles at night, they are just little lights in a sea of darkness, and yet, everyone sees them.
As we light our Chanukah candles this year, we light them in darker times than usual, considering the state of our economy and the uncertainty of events in the world. But this is precisely why we light these candles! These lights that we will kindle together give us guidance in times of doubt and darkness. They bring warmth to the cold, hope to the desperate, and freedom to those in bondage.
As we light these candles together, our small lights create a large flame. By lighting our candles in the most visible places, we proudly state that we are here and we stand for righteousness, goodness, and freedom in this world.
Judaism also looks at each one of us as a small miracle. Now is the time to let the world see the light inside of you, the unique aspect that you have to share with the world. All of us have a little light inside and Chanukah is the time to let it shine.
Rabbi Baum officiates at Congregation Shaarei Kodesh in Boca Raton. Visit www.ShaareiKodesh.org.
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