Opinion: Chanukah reminds us that light is essential

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By Rabbi Levi Greenberg

Chanukah is known as the Festival of Lights because the essential observance of the holiday involves lighting the menorah (Hebrew for candelabra) for eight nights. Over 2,000 years ago, the former Syrian Greek Empire conquered the Land of Israel and began a tyrannical campaign of persecution against the Jews.

Rabbi Levi Greenberg

After several years of unbearable religious persecution, a small group of pious Jews – commonly referred to as the Maccabees – revolted and miraculously decimated the occupying forces. When they prepared to rededicate the Holy Temple service of lighting the seven-branched menorah, they found only a supply of ritually pure olive oil for one night and the replenishment would take eight days. . They lit the menorah and the seven flames miraculously burned for eight days and eight nights, hence the annual commemoration of this miracle by lighting candles for eight nights.

There were many candelabras in the temple providing enough light for the massive complex, but the Chanukah miracle happened with a special candelabra, placed near the holiest chamber in the temple. Each day, the priests filled his lamps with ritually pure olive oil and lit seven flames. It was not necessary for the light, as no one spent time in this room and the flames were only lit for the ritual.

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As the epicenter of Judaism, every detail of temple service represented another essential part of daily life, including nutrition, hydration, and wisdom. Why was there a ritual depicting light, if humans can survive without it?

Hugo Gryn was a teenager when the Nazis invaded his Ukrainian hometown, rounded up the Jews, and deported them to Auschwitz. On the first night of Chanukah, while Hugo was shivering in the barracks, he saw his father pull out a small tin mug with a small piece of butter on the bottom. He pulled a thread from his camp uniform, inserted it into the butter, and began to light it while reciting the Chanukah blessings in a low voice.

Hugo was outraged. Not because his father was putting his life in danger by lighting the Chanukah candles, an offense for which he could be shot on the spot. He found this simply impractical and asked his father how he could possibly waste a piece of butter that could provide much needed nutrition to their body, turning it on for Chanukah for a few minutes.

His father looked him in the eyes and said. “Hugo, if Auschwitz has taught us anything, it is that a person can live days without food but he cannot live for a moment without light.”

Light has the unique quality of being beneficial to all. If one person is holding a burning candle, everyone nearby benefits as well. In Auschwitz they learned to live without food, but the ability to care for and benefit others is a basic human need that even the most difficult of conditions should never diminish.

Light represents the essential human need to live a life of higher purpose. Go beyond the comfort zone and seek to make the world a better place. Never be satisfied with yesterday’s accomplishments and aim for greater heights every day.

This is why lighting flames was a daily ritual in the temple and why the Maccabees experienced a tremendous miracle associated with light. Because they heroically fought for the soul of the nation and their victory represented the unchallenged superiority of good over evil.

Instead of simply commemorating a distant story, the lights of Chanukah are meant to inspire us here and now with the unique ability and essential need of each individual to transform the dark and increasingly chaotic world around us into a place of brilliant serenity. As Maimonides said, even a single good deed, word, or thought can tip the scales and usher in an era of global peace and tranquility.

To learn more about Chanukah, please visit chabadelpaso.com/chanukah.

Chanukah this year begins on Sunday November 28 and continues through Sunday December 6.

Chabad Lubavitch will host outdoor menorah lighting on Sunday, November 28 at 4:30 p.m. in honor of the first night of Chanukah. The representative of the State Art Fierro will light the central candle. The lighting will be followed by a dinner and a children’s program.

The eighth night of Hanukkah will be celebrated with the 21st annual Hanukkah Playground on Sunday, December 5 at 2:30 p.m., followed by outdoor menorah lighting at 5 p.m. Visit chabadelpaso.com/playland for details. Both programs will take place at the Chabad Lubavitch Center for Jewish Life, 6516 Escondido Drive.

Levi Greenberg is an associate rabbi with Chabad Lubavitch in El Paso.

Cover photo: State Representative César Blanco, right, joined Rabbi Yisrael Greenberg in lighting a giant menorah outside the Chabad Lubavitch Synagogue in West El Paso in 2019 (Photo courtesy of Courtesy) by Chabad Lubavitch)

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