Week Two: Friday
Today, December 11, marks the second day of the eight day Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, the festival of lights. For those not familiar with this celebration, here is a synopsis:
“In the second century BCE, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who tried to force the people of Israel to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of mitzvah observance and belief in G‑d. Against all odds, a small band of faithful but poorly armed Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G‑d.
“When they sought to light the Temple’s Menorah, they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity. To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah.” source: Chabad.org.
How relevant this ancient story is today. We, too, are facing mighty foes: an out-of-control pandemic; a democracy in the midst of chaos; a distrust of science; a fragile earth and environment nearing complete fatigue; a world where no country truly trusts its neighbor; a country (USA) where many no longer trust their own neighbors. We, too, at least in the United States, live in a time where many want to force their beliefs on each other–political, moral, and religious–and if we disagree, we are the enemy. We who are on this particular journey toward the Light seem to be a small band facing enormous opponents. Where is our magic oil?
Of course, in the story of the Maccabees, the oil is not magic. Its presence and sufficiency are signs of the manifestation of God in their midst. Perhaps the oil is a metaphor for the flame already burning within the hearts of Judah and his followers, to right an injustice and oppression, to be the bearers of the Light of God in their dark and anxious world. Though small in number, their trust in God gave them the courage and the strength to reclaim God’s rightful place. We can be empowered and emboldened to do the same.
The Light shines on in this season of Hanukkah. The candles of the Menorah remind us that even in our own small attempts to glow, together we can shine, for peace, for reconciliation, for healing, for unity, if we lay aside our fear and distrust of the other, if we are willing, if we believe.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, a British Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, theologian, author, and politician who died in 2013, guides us forward with his words: “For though my faith is not yours and your faith is not mine, if we are each free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness of the world.” Amen and yes. That has been my hope in these daily Spirit-led devotions; that is my prayer. Let us light our candles, wherever we are, whatever our faith, and offer healing to our world. Blessings to you.