JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review Dec. 12, 2001 / 27 Kislev, 5762

What celebrating Chanukah says about the state of Jewry

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE uniqueness of the holiday of Chanukah is apparent in the fact that it is so widely celebrated amongst the Jews the world over and no matter what their level of Jewish observance is.

It is not only that Chanukah has the "good fortune" of always falling in the month of December that accounts for this level of interest in it. This is definitely a factor, but I do not believe it to be the deciding factor. I think rather that Chanukah represents the last refuge of Jews who want to be Jewish but are unable to verbalize or express in their actions that inner desire. So, Jews allow Chanukah to speak for us. For Chanukah declares clearly that there is a G-d in the world, that there are basic principles of faith and G-dly behavior that are worth great sacrifices, that a little light can overcome a sea of darkness and that G-d demands a certain greatness from the Jewish people and He will perform miracles to guarantee human realization of His presence in world events.

Jews really believe in these ideas but somehow they are not publicly expressed in our lives. It may be that in our modern world that has cast away so much of the positive of the past, it is embarrassing to mouth these eternal truths. Certainly in this century when Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and other representatives of the new, modern, progressive world, were ascendant, the lights of Chanukah were certainly dim and the ideas they represented were only capable of being whispered but not proclaimed. So the Jewish person retreated into Chanukah and let the holiday itself speak for them and their inner being and hopes.

One of the qualities of Chanukah, which the Talmud emphasizes, is the concept of pirsuma nissa the requirement to publicize and make known the miracle of Chanukah. Thus the lights of Chanukah are lit in a window that opens to the outside street. In Israel we light the lights of Chanukah in the passageway of our outside doors so that they shine on the street and the passersby. The lights of Chanukah, the symbol of the miracle and the lessons of this holiday, thereby become a public statement of Jewish faith and of our deepest instincts and G-dly intuition. What we cannot say in words, either out of ignorance, shame, or weakness, we say therefore with the lights of Chanukah themselves. The problems in Jewish life that Chanukah records for us are still present today in the Jewish world. The Hellenistic Jews no longer go by that name but their program of advocating unchecked Jewish assimilation, no matter what the cost, still lives on.

There are other Jews in our time that advocate putting all of our trust in our own might and power, even though all of the history of the events of this bloody century seem to deny the validity of such a strategy. There are still other Jews that are blind to the realities of being subjugated and are unappreciative of the benefits, spiritual and physical, of being an independent nation. All of these groups existed within the Jewish world of the Hasmoneans almost twenty-two centuries ago.

The victory and miracles of Chanukah stand as a stark reminder to all of us that we have been through this trial once before. A wise people learn from its past history. Chanukah and its lights are a powerful memory aid for all of us. The Torah records for us in this week's reading the story of the fulfillment of Joseph's dreams. The Torah reading of Miketz almost invariably coincides with the Sabbath of Chanukah. The message here is also clear. Chanukah and Jewish dreams are inseparable. In order to have a meaningful, spiritual, Jewish life, one must be a dreamer.

One must have a maximum vision of one's self and one's importance and contributions to Jewish life and destiny. Without that vision, it is difficult to appreciate the lights of Chanukah. For Chanukah not only commemorates our past, it is meant to illustrate our future. It gives hope for our dreams' fulfillment and a sense of confidence - Jewish confidence - that somehow all will yet be right for us and for all of humankind.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He has authored over 650 tapes, books and videos which you can purchase at RabbiWein.com. Comment by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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© 2000, Rabbi Berel Wein