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Hanukkah 2022

12/15/2022 08:06:22 PM


Rabbi Steven Folberg

Unlike many other Jewish holidays, Hanukkah doesn't have its own section in the Talmud, as does, for example, the festival of Pesach. Instead, it is touched upon in the section on Shabbat. The rabbis are talking about what kinds of wicks and what kinds of oils make good candles for Shabbat. And the conversation eventually meanders into talking about Hanukkah lights.

When the passage gets around to determining the proper way to light the menorah, we come to this striking section:

"Our Rabbis taught: It is incumbent to place the Hanukkah lamp by the door of one's house on the outside; if one dwells in an upper chamber [as in an apartment building today], then place it in the window nearest the street. But in times of danger, it is sufficient to place it on the table [away from the window]."

What can we learn from these few words? First, the fact that the "ideal placement" of the Hanukkah lamp is outdoors, in front of the door of your house, emphasizes that "publicizing the miracle" of Hanukkah was the paramount focus of this mitzvah. Then we learn that if you dwell in the upper story of the building, you should still do your best to make the menorah visible to passersby.

And then we hit that last phrase, that if it is "a time of danger," it's okay to light the menorah so that, although you can see it, your neighbors cannot.

Having a menorah in your window is not just a reminder of the story of Hanukkah. Having a menorah in your window where people can see it is also a bold and forthright identification of your home as a Jewish home! And yet, in a dangerous time, a time when hostility toward the Jewish people is on the rise, we place safety above "proclaiming the miracle."

In past years, reading that phrase about "times of danger" would make me think of German Jews during the rise of the Nazi dictatorship. Never did I think that it would call to mind the current American scene, when disgusting, libelous, conspiracy laden rhetoric directed toward our people would be accepted and disseminated by political figures, celebrity entertainers and social media influencers alike. Never did I think that our public school students, already too often experiencing "otherness" during the Christmas season, would think twice about identifying as Jewish for fear of ridicule, or worse.

And this is precisely why we need Hanukkah so much this year! We are the heirs of a beautiful, compassionate, learned and just tradition, refined and elevated and purified over the course of some three millennia of Jewish history. We light the menorah and put it in the window to affirm not only our pride in who we are, but our insistence in the right to be different and the beauty of cultural diversity.

The same Talmud passage I cited above explains that, according to the great Rabbi Hillel, we begin with one candle on the first night and add one candle each night for the next seven nights, because "in matters of holiness, we always seek to increase and never decrease." In doing so, as we watch the menorah cast a brighter and brighter light against the midwinter darkness, we respond to fear with the light of courage, to ignorance with the light of understanding, and to hatred with lights of dignity and love.

We don't have a choice about the tenor of the times in which we live and raise our kids. We do have a choice in how to respond.

Let us embrace this Hanukkah season in pride, in courage, in the study of Torah, in solidarity with our fellow Jews, and with renewed resolve to cast a bright light in a dark time.

Happy Hanukkah!

With love,

Rabbi Folberg

Sat, April 20 2024 12 Nisan 5784