A Hanukkah Question
By Rabbi Paul Arberman
I have a question about Hanukkah, but before I get there, I want to note that PM May sent out a thoughtful Hanukkah greeting to the Jewish community in Britain:
‘Just as the Maccabees resisted oppression and kept their faith, to be rewarded by the miracle of a light that burnt for eight nights, so too must we today have the courage to stand up for our values and hold sacred our way of life.’
It’s a lovely way of saying, “We all can be inspired by this Jewish holiday.” I can’t help but think that the president elect of the U.S. could learn a thing or two from May about being classy, and making people feel included.
Okay, here’s my question. Why is the miracle of a light burning for eight days…so great? If I was a Maccabee “resisting oppression and keeping the faith,” I would want a better reward. Like not so many Jews dying when they fought the Greeks. Or great wealth. But long burning oil? That wouldn’t have been high on my gift registry-list. For God who can split the Sea of Reeds, it’s almost like God didn’t put a lot of effort into the gift.
But there’s a lesson there. It’s that a small bit of light can have a major impact. It was enough to give the Maccabees a sign that their struggle was worth it and it gave them the strength to rededicate the Temple.
Maybe God was trying to teach us that miracles after the Bible would no longer be big and loud. They could be life-changing but not history changing.
And maybe God was trying to say that the small effort on your part, can make all the difference for another person. You hold the door for someone, and for you it was nothing. But for the other person, it made them feel cared for. You give someone a three second hug — or ask how they are feeling — or bring them a coffee — and for them it changes their day.
In fact, the small miracle of Hanukkah was interpreted by generations of Jews as “light overcoming darkness” and it inspired us to continue the fight for religious freedom and self-determination. That is why the menorah is the emblem of the State of Israel and is featured on its coat of arms.
And that is why I appreciated PM May’s holiday greeting so much. In a few short words she made the Jewish community feel counted, included and appreciated. I would say she understands the meaning of Hanukkah.
Rabbi Paul Arberman is the rabbi of Hatch End Masorti Synagogue