by Rabbi Michael Schwab
Hanukkah is one of my favorite holidays, though not solely for the reasons most people would guess. Yes, I enjoy latkes, sufganiyot (donuts), dreidel and gifts. However what I love most is the lighting of the Hanukkiah, both the experience of kindling lights together with blessings and song, as well as the symbolic message the act of lighting represents.
Hanukkah is celebrated as a holiday of joy specifically and purposefully at the darkest time of the year. As well, the historic aspect of the holiday celebrates the victory of our people and our tradition during one of the darkest times of our existence. Therefore, the lighting of the candles on Hanukkah is both literally and figuratively about bringing light to the darkness and hope to the despondent.
Light, in Judaism (and in many other cultures), is linked to many wonderful qualities. Light reveals what is hidden, allowing us to discover truths and treasures that would have otherwise remained obscured and hidden. Light guides us like a beacon in the night, or a flashlight which can illuminate the path so we can move forward safely and with confidence. Light draws us near, providing a rallying point with its brightness and warmth. And light dispels darkness, keeping what is threatening at bay while illuminating the blessings that constantly surround us.
On Hanukkah we each get a chance to kindle light. The unique Jewish law is that lighting should be done by each person and should ideally be done at home. We are not to rely on representatives, or other exalted leaders, to kindle for us. We do not have to go to a designated special place to do it. The message is that all of us have the power to bring light into the world and doing so starts at home. Hanukkah celebrates the spiritual fact that we each have light to share and that the world needs all of our individual lights to thrive.
What is more, just think about the way we light our candles. We do not take a match to the Hanukkah candles themselves. We first light a shamsah, the facilitator candle that lights all of the others. The symbolic meaning of the use of the shamash is that we are to see ourselves as not only possessing the power to bring our own light to the world but that we also possess the power to ignite the light of others.
So, as we light our Hanukkiah this Hanukkah, let us remember our mission to bring light to darkness and be inspired to know that we each have a role in sharing hope and goodness in the world, as well as the ability to inspire so many others to do the same. In that way we truly celebrate the Festival of Lights. Happy Hanukkah!