Rabbi Dayle's December 2019 Letter to the Congregation

posted Dec 4, 2019, 5:24 PM by Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir

December 2019

Kislev/Hanukkah 5780

Dear Leyv Ha-Ir Hevre/Community,

In a few short weeks, we will be filling our homes with light as we kindle our Hanukkiot. Hanukkah is a beloved, but somewhat mysterious holiday. The rabbis of the Talmud were apparently unsure what the occasion was for celebration in the eight days following the 25th of the month of Kislev. They asked: mai Hanukkah? What is Hanukkah [all about]? They answered their own question by explaining that on the 25th of Kislev, the [Syrian] Greeks had captured and trashed the Temple in Jerusalem; the oils used for lighting the Menorah [lamp] were defiled. When the Hasmoneans [Maccabees] recaptured the Temple, they sought to light the Menorah to rededicate the sanctuary, but found only one small vessel of oil, whose contents were enough for only a single day. A miracle made it possible for them to use this tiny bit of oil to keep the lamp burning for eight days. The following year, an eight-day holiday of gratitude was decreed.

This tale of light wondrously pervading dark days has deep resonance for our time. But there is another mystery to be solved. Rabbi David Hartman, a great 20th century Jewish thinker, notes that the eight-day length of the holiday is surprising. Hartman points out that on the first day, it was to be expected that the light would burn. It was the seven days after the first that were miraculous.

Hartman suggests that, in fact, the first day was the most miraculous one. What was amazing was that the Jews chose to light the lamp with the tiny cruse of oil, even knowing that it could not possibly last until the Temple had been rededicated. They chose to act even when they could not imagine that their mission would be completed. The real miracle of Hanukkah was the courage and faith of our ancestors, who used what they had and did what they could to restore holiness in their midst.

In our fall education series, Be Strong and of Good Courage: Finding Our Grounding in Dark Times, we’ve been exploring practices that can help us to be resilient amid discouraging and frightening events around us. The miracle of the first night of Hanukkah can serve as an inspiration to us. May we, like our ancestors, find the courage and faith to use our individual and collective resources to bring light to our world.

I look forward to exploring activism as a spiritual practice in our December 8th education session, and to celebrating Hanukkah on Friday, December 27.

In blessing and hope,

Rabbi Dayle