Well, they say “you learn something new every day” and while the older I get the more I find that to be true, I will admit it’s been quite some time since I’ve learned anything about Judaism or a Jewish holiday I haven’t already learned and then subsequently taught.
On this, the last night of Hanukkah 2013, I decided that rather than tell about my Hanukkah this year (which has been THE BEST one in as long as I can remember!) or tell you the story and traditions of Hanukkah, I would share with you this amazingness I learned this year about Hanukkah!
One of the things that I love most about being Jewish, and let’s face it, it’s not easy being Jewish in a Christian world this time of year in 2013, is that we are accepting of everything and everyone AND everything have meaning. Sometimes, like in this case, dual meaning. Both positive and amazing.
We know that we light the Menorah to commemorate the oil found in the ancient temple that was only to last one day but by a miracle it lasted 8-days. Hence we celebrate Hanukkah and light 8 candles. But what I learned this year is that each and every candle has a corresponding meaning behind it and when put together they are the most touching, amazing group of words that actually made me teary eyed when reading.
I WANT this to become my tradition, to remember what each of those 8 candles signifies every single time I light them. I hope you do too!
So here goes……
On the first night, when we light the candle we want to think of the world “FAITH”. The Maccabees who fought to rededicate the Temple and found the oil were people who had faith. The victory was a demonstration of their faith. But faith can be shown in ways other than war.
There is a faith we have in God. There is a faith that we show by our behavior toward other people. We must have faith too, in our nation. This we must demonstrate by taking part in its activities and by living out lives as decent and respectable citizens.
There is the faith that we must have in our parents and the faith that they must have in their children. There is the faith that exists between student and teacher, doctor and patient and husband and wife. Finally, there is the faith of all people in each other.
Things will not always turn out well, but we must have faith enough to overcome our disappointments and our frustrations. We must have faith that most people believe more in good than they do in evil.
As you look at the first candle, we all think of these different kinds of faith.
On the Second night when we light the candle we think of the word “Freedom”.
Freedom, the state of being free is a big, big word. It is a word that has guided the destiny of the world. People since early days have searched for freedom of many kinds. We who are American Jews are very fortunate, because we inherited a great tradition of freedom.
Freedom, however, is a flame that needs constant tending. We cannot keep a flame going without adding fuel of our determination to keep free.
We must remember that freedom is not something that we should selfishly cherish just for ourselves. We must be willing to help people all over the world to be free.
As we look at the two candles of Faith and Freedom burning together, we know how closely related they are to each other and how much brighter the candle of Faith seems to burn with Freedom beside it.
The 3rd candle stands for the word “Courage”.
Courage comes to our mind in many ways. We think of David, a young boy armed with a slingshot, coming forth to meet a giant. We think of Lincoln, a poor boy, with no opportunity for real study, who developed his beliefs and his courage and led his country through the greatest civil war of its history. We think of Franklin Roosevelt, a man crippled by disease, who fights his way back to be one of the greatest men in American history. We think of our President, Barack Obama, who has broken barriers and set a precedence in this country by being the very first African American President of the United States. We think of Israel, a little nation fighting to find its way to security.
We can have wonderful ideals, but they are meaningless if we do not have the courage to fight for them. We can have faith, but unless we have the courage to express it and stand up for it, it disappears. We can believe in freedom, but if we do not have the courage to fight for it, it will cease to exist.
As we look at the 3rd candle, we must think of how fortunate we are in our American and Jewish tradition to have demonstrated faith, freedom and courage.
So far we have lit 3 candles, Faith, Freedom and Courage. Now these become brighter and stronger as we light the fourth candle, “LOVE”.
We cannot have faith unless we have love for it. We cannot believe in freedom unless we love it. We cannot be brave in our hearts unless we love something dearly enough to fight for it.
Love is a beautiful word. It is soft and warm to the ear. Love is an all-inclusive word. We love God and we love our nation. We love our children and our parents. We love friends and relatives. We love an ice cream soda and a football game. We love a holiday or a rainy day. We love to get sunburned r we love a walk through the pine forest. We love hot dogs or a poem. We love painting or a frolic in the snow……all kinds of love for so many things.
We love our history and our religion. We love the feeling of health in our bodies. We love to think of good things about others and we love to see someone we adore. We love the sight of a flag flying in the breeze. We love the color of flowers against a green lawn. We love the distant clip-clop of a horse’s hooves. We love the sound of car tires going through a pool of water.
All of these things that we love enrich our lives. We cannot enjoy love if we try to hurt others, rather than help them. God has given us the miracle of life and we can enjoy it better if we love god for what he has given us and love the life He has granted to us.
The 5th candle stands for Charity.
Charity is an important part of our lives. The Hebrew word for charity, Tzedakah, does not mean quite the same as the English word. In Hebrew, it means “righteousness”. In English it means helping those who are less fortunate.
There is a good reason to link righteousness with charity. It helps to protect the feelings of those who receive charity. It saves them from embarrassment. Most people prefer to earn their own way to be in a position to take care of their bodies when they are sick, to pay for their own food when they are hungry, to buy their own new clothing when the old is worn or to find their own shelter when they are homeless.
But the world we live in is an uncertain world. Disasters DO happen. The more fortunate must help the less fortunate. We must not only give things, but we must also give of ourselves. We must give kindness and show understanding, tolerance and patience. These things bring comfort and ease pain. The real pleasure of giving will teach us the true meaning of charity.
We come from a people who have a tradition of giving. As Americans and as Jews, we must continue this tradition and give readily and generously.
On the 6th night as we light the candles which makes this pool of light shine with greater brilliance than ever before — that word is “INTEGRITY”.
This is a hard word. It means honesty.
If we have integrity, we will stand up and be counted when we are asked to state our opinions on issues.
If we have integrity, we will not cheat. If we have integrity, we will do our share of the work and not shirk our responsibilities.
If we have integrity, we will keep our faith bright. If we have integrity, we will preserve freedom, we will place courage high; we will respect love; we will give charity. If we have integrity, the Ten Commandment will be laws that we respect.
All of the ideals we understood above, would be useless without the candle for the 7th night which stands for “Knowledge”.
Knowledge brightens the world. If we had not gained any knowledge, we would remain as we were at birth.
God sets a pattern for our development, and with this development comes our ability to gain knowledge. All of the little things that we later take for granted, we must first learn, and as we learn them, we have knowledge.
And with knowledge, we now the value of faith, the joy of freedom, the pride of courage, the tenderness of love, the warmth of charity and the comfort of integrity.
While we celebrate the struggles of the Maccabees, in reality we celebrate the peace that their victories earned for us. When we look back at all the period of warn in our history, as Jews and Americans, we see the heroic acts of our fighting men and women, but we are happiest because of the gift their victories brought – the gift of peace.
People have sought peace since the beginning of time. Along with that search for peace has come the question of peace at what price.
We speak of a peace in which all people live in equality and dignity, a peace in which no one is ashamed to say what he/she thinks or believes, where children grow up unafraid of bombs and guns, where people have learned to love each other and respect what others think cherish where they may travel to any port and to any mountaintop, where a white person lives with a black or a brown or a red or a yellow person without prejudice, where anyone can live with freedom from want, freedom from war freedom from fear.
America’s own symbols such as the Liberty Bell and the words on our great seal, are word from the Torah. So, as American and as Jews, we can rededicate ourselves to the ideal of Peace.
So as you watch the Menorah burn brightly tonight, remember these eight ideals that we have been blessed with. Remember what they stand for. Remember how blessed and lucky we are. Faith, Freedom, Courage, Love, Charity, Integrity, Knowledge and Peace. ❤
(The above was taken from literagy from Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air, CA and adapted from an original script by Dory Scharey)