As I prepare for Chanukah, I always have to remind myself that our Jewish holidays are not for the purpose of merely remembering the past and informing our future, rather they are for celebrating our glorious and heroic stories so we can carry-on a legacy that inspires and illuminates our future!
There are so many significant moments in Jewish history that are not remembered as a specific holiday. If one is deemed worthy for holiday status, it is because our sages saw the message in that moment as one carrying within it a deep lesson that is relevant and necessary for all future Jewish generations to remember.
At the core of Chanukah is the reminder of the battle between two sets of values that were and continue to be in conflict. Ancient Syrian-Greek culture put a heavy emphasis on outer strength and beauty. King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, never ordered the destruction of the temple. It was seen as a beautiful architectural masterpiece… a heralded marvel of design and construction. However, Antiochus ordered it to be “defiled” – keeping the external intact and attractive while desecrating the inner sanctum – assigning no value to the life enriching activities of the inside.
The real battle of Chanukah
The Jewish revolt was a battle inspired by a dedication toward inner strength and beauty – the kind of necessary characteristics elevated by so many Jewish stories. Are we taught to value what a home looks like on the outside or how it shines and glows from within? Our tradition instructs us to light our candles IN our home – not ON our or OUTSIDE of our home. It is a struggle between valuing what is seen on the outside and was defines our actions and priorities on the inside.
This same struggle still exists within us and our society. This is why Chanukah is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago…
Lighting from within
By no means does Judaism ignore the value of the physical – there are many reasons to have and use beauty –but those external characteristics should not be a cover for what is on the inside. External beauty is valued precisely because it as an expression of inner beauty, strength and values that we should inherently possess. Our pictures posted on social media, or the smiles shared with friends, should not be external realities, but rather a reflection of the inner joy, beauty, and goodness that we hope to achieve in our lives.
While the struggle to prioritize the inner over the outer might be tough – the eternal message of Chanukah is that a small amount of effort (or symbolically, oil), has the potential power to miraculously propel us beyond the obstacles toward becoming the best person we are meant to be.
Wishing you a Chanukah that truly spreads light without and within! Chag sa’meh’ach.
Rabbi Rafi Lipner