In a world darkened by assaults on religious identity, values and freedom of expression, it’s refreshing to pause for a lighthearted time of food, family, friends, songs, games, gifts and all-around goodwill.
This is exactly what the Jewish community will experience once more for eight nights and days beginning this year at sundown, Dec. 12 (25 Kislev in the Jewish year 5778) with the lighting of the first candle in an eight-candle menorah: Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.
One of the truly great privileges I, as a Christian, have enjoyed over the years in writing these columns is the wisdom and inspiration of our Jewish readers. Several of them have shared with me helpful insights into the significance of Hanukkah, along with tasty latkes, jelly-filled donuts and spinning dreidels.
The celebration dates back almost 2,200 years to the time when the tyrant Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) attempted to impose Hellenistic customs on the people of Israel, forbidding them to practice their own religious traditions and forcing them to do things contrary to Jewish law, including eating swine’s flesh. Jewish mothers who had their male babies circumcised were executed, as were the babies.
He even desecrated the temple in Jerusalem by pillaging it and redesignating it the temple of Olympian Zeus, offering pagan sacrifices on its sacred altar.
His outrageous sacrilege in the temple so agitated devout Jews that they successfully rose up against him in what has become known as the Maccabean revolt.
They reclaimed the temple and set about rededicating it, but found only enough ritually pure oil to keep the temple candle lit for a single day. Miraculously, the candle burned for eight days, until a fresh supply of purified oil could be prepared.
“Our temple was rededicated,” says Calgary reader Sandy Corenblum. “Hanukkah recalls that miracle of the oil” and of the victory of light over the darkness of religious intolerance, celebrated in the lighting of the eight-candle menorah associated with this festival.
“I think a column about the Hanukkah story is exactly what is needed, a column about light and religious freedoms is so timely.” She alludes to the prophet’s words: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6).
“We as Jews have long been the victims of serious religious persecution and government restrictions on rituals and practices. Our punishment throughout all time did not deter us and we still continue with said practices and traditions,” she says.
“One small light can extinguish darkness and we must all be lights in a world full of darkness. There is a bright light within us all.”
Thank you, Sandy, and Rabbis Shaul Osadchey and Mark Glickman, and Myron and Monique Achtman, of Calgary, for your gracious assistance on this column.
I will close with lines from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah (60:1): “Arise, shine; for your light has dawned; the Presence of the Lord has shone upon you!”
Hanukkah Sameach, Happy Hanukkah!
© 2017 Warren Harbeck