Tuesday, 19 December 2017
Tonight is the eighth night of Chanukah, when we light all eight lights on the hannukiah. Tomorrow we put the hannukiah back up on the shelf, any left over candles get stored away for another year (does anyone else have a box of the spare candles that were never needed and then one year you use them all up over the eight nights?) and any remaining hannukah gelt gets eaten quickly.
Hanukkah is perhaps my favourite feast! It's warm and cosy, with the dark evenings and the bright lights, sitting with my family to read stories of the miracles G-d has performed through the ages for His people at this season.
But Hanukkah is also perhaps the most challenging of all the feasts. At Pesach we re-enact G-d's redemption, at Shavuot we give thanksgiving for the giving of the Torah and the Rauch HaKodesh, at the High Holy Days we proclaim G-d as King and seek to live a holier life, at Sukkot we remember G-d's promises to provide for us even during difficult times. But Chanukah?
At Chanukah we remember that a small band of Jews successfully rebelled against the mighty Greeks taking over our Land, we remember the fight for independence, we remember the lives lost in the cause that said worshipping G-d was more important than life itself ... it's a great action story, but is it really any more than that?
We also remember what G-d did for us, when we reached the Temple and didn't have enough oil to keep the menorah burning for eight days. After the blood, sweat and tears of all the previous years there was no more we could do: human resources were at an end and G-d took over. What is perhaps easier to forget is that the miracle began much earlier than that. The miracle was there when our people were fighting in the hills and valleys and it began when Mattiyahu had the courage to stand up and say, "We will not sacrifice this to your god!"
And maybe that is why Chanukah is the most challenging of the feasts: it doesn't start with what G-d did - it starts with what we did. And, most challenging of all, we have to decide what we, today, are going to do. We don't have to always be controversial and start a fight, but we are all called to stand up for our faith; as we quietly go about our day's business, we are called to remember that we are G-d's and as such we have a higher allegiance than to the society and culture around us. We each have to decide for ourselves what that looks like in our life, but may we all have the courage of the Maccabees to hold up the light and let it shine for all men to see!