Last week, we celebrated rosh chodesh (new month) Kislev, which means Chanukah is around the corner. Chanukah has all the fixings of a great story. The good guys triumph over the bad guys, there is a miracle that happens and, of course, there is feasting and celebrating. It’s not a big surprise that as a child, Chanukah was one of my favorite holidays. My family would light multiple chanukiot, and each night there was a present to open. When I became a parent and my kids were little, we continued the tradition of lighting one chanukiah for each member of the family; it was so fun to see the look of joy and surprise on my kids’ faces as they unwrapped gifts. In the last few years, I’ve come to love Chanukah for a very different reason. Chanukah literally means “dedication,” and it reminds us to redouble our efforts to spread light by the things we say and do for others.
December heralds the days of waning sunlight and freezing temperatures where we all hunker down in our homes to thwart the cold. And then along comes Chanukah on the 25th of Kislev and we bring light into our homes for eight nights. There is the flicker of the candles, the sound of children’s laughter and the smell and taste of Chanukah treats like latkes, sufganiyot and chocolate gelt. Maybe it is just one of these, or all of them collectively, that make us feel happy and bright. Chanukah appeals to all our senses and provides a much-needed respite from the darkness; Chanukah also reminds us to stand up for what we believe in, work together toward a common goal and spread joy and light to others. It doesn’t take a big act to make a small but powerful difference. Each of us has something special to share and give of ourselves to make the world a happier place.
My favorite night is always the eighth night as all the candles are burning brightly; yet it is also bittersweet as it means the end of Chanukah. Each year at Chanukah, I am reminded of the famous machloket (disagreement) between two schools of thought from great Talmudic rabbis Hillel and Shammai. Shammai teaches that on the first day of Chanukah, we should light all eight candles and from each night thereafter, you decrease the candles so you end with just one. Conversely, Hillel taught that we light one candle each night so that we end with all eight candles burning on the last night, his idea being that we increase our joy and light each night as it builds toward the eighth day.
This year, more than any other, is the time to think about how we all can help bring light into the lives of those who may be isolated, sick or vulnerable. There won’t be eight nights of Chanukah parties or community candle-lightings at school or at synagogue. Chanukah may feel a little less bright. Though we can’t gather together, we can make a plan for how to spread some light. Maybe it’s a phone call to a loved one, a homemade card sent in the mail, a donation to an organization that is meaningful to you or a meal you deliver. Chanukah starts on Thursday night, Dec. 10. May the candles in the chanukiah inspire you to spread your light and brighten someone else’s life.
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