I would like to share with you an important message that strikes me as central to Chanukah and in particular to Chanukah in 2009.
In Friday’s NY Times, David Brooks writes about the Chanukah story. The article is interesting, a bit provocative and very thoughtful. I recommend reading the article in its entirety.
In his words:
“Mattathias’s five sons, led by Judah Maccabee, then led an insurgent revolt against the regime. The Jewish civil war raised questions: Who is a Jew? Who gets to define the right level of observance? It also created a spiritual crisis. This was not a battle between tribes. It was a battle between theologies… The lesson of Hanukkah is that even the struggles that saved a people are dappled with tragic irony, complexity and unattractive choices. And he is right and the struggle continues today.”
The Maccabees fought their own Jewish brothers and sisters in an effort to regain control over a Jewish people that were spiraling into assimilation. As Brooks says, in their victory there remains a tragic irony.
Chanukah is a festival that reminds us of the fragmentation within Judaism. Whether it is the ancient epic struggle of Yosef and his brothers or the more current struggles between Jews from along the spectrum of politics, different hometowns in Europe, different Rabbis, different neighborhoods and even between more observant and less observant Jews, unity eludes us.
Perhaps that is why the element of pirsumei nisa, of publicizing the grand events of Chanukah is so central to its mitzva. In no other mitzva is there so strong an element of publicizing that the observance of the mitzva depends upon it. How are we to publicize? Is it with bullhorns or billboards? TV ads or 2 page spreads in the NY Times?
It is by lighting candles. It is with fire. It is with light. The light unites us. The light does not play favorites. The light knows no sides. Fire is fire. The way we celebrate the festival of Chanukah is by publicizing a message of light. A universal light. A light that knows no friend or foe. Where there is light, there is light for all. We proclaim the Chanukah story with light. We proclaim a dedication to unity.
This Chanukah let us reunite.
We can do it and we have the resources to do it. It is time to set aside differences and unite under the themes and ideals that we agree upon and not look to our differences for fuel towards animosity. Let us look for unity in one another.
If we can do that, it will be a modern day Chanukah miracle.
Part of my recent inspiration: (Matisyahu – One Day). Play the song and listen very carefully to the words.
Yes, this is the song I mentioned as the soundtrack on the NBC promo for the Vancouver Olympics.