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Values, Meditations, and Questions for Each Night of Hanukkah

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

1 – Owning Courage – In the year 170 before the Common era (BCE), the Syrian-Greek ruler Antiochus took control of the land of Israel. Antiochus hated the Jews because of their love of the one God of Heaven and Earth, and their refusal to worship the Greek gods. In his outrage, he overthrew the High Priest in the Jerusalem Temple, plundered the sacred vessels used there, and closed the Temple to Jewish worship and sacrifice. The Torah was figuratively and literally ripped to shreds.

In the village of Modi’in, one priest, Mattathias, held his ground. Brave and proud, he and his family stood fast against the pagan soldiers and defied their commands. His followers rose to battle, and the enemy of vast numbers was overcome by a small but dedicated faithful Jewish fighting force.

  • How have we shown courage in the year gone by? How might we anticipate demonstrating courage in the year to come?

2 – Providing light and love – As we light the Hanukkah candles, the stars fill the winter skies around us. The light reflected in the glow of the candles is a sign of the warmth in our hearts, and the love that should surround us. As we drink in the fountain of love and affection that others give forth to us, so, too, can we offer to others the sweetness of our own hearts, and make their lives complete.

  • Is there one special person whom we can bring into the light of our loving influence? What do I need to learn and do in order to bear light to others?

3 – Utilizing the gifts of creation – Humanity was created in God’s image. This means that we are to imitate the ways of God whenever possible. We cannot perform miracles that fill the sky with stars or reverse the orbit of the earth, but we can fill someone’s heart with love, and we can reverse the cycle of poverty that ensnares the less fortunate in endless searches for shelter and sustenance.

  • How can I imitate God in my everyday life? What can I bring to others when they search for humanity’s divine qualities?

4 – Accepting our differences – The holiday of Hanukkah teaches the importance of accepting differences among all the people of the world. Matters of religion, nation, race, gender, or gender orientation must not be used by others to divide us. Rather we must seek out ways of bridging the valleys of separation that prevent one human being from sharing love with another.

What is the one single act I can perform to bring the message of tolerance to those around me? Who would be my allies in such a mission?

5 - Pursuing knowledge – May we, in our pursuit of increased and deeper knowledge, always elevate humanity. May we bear in mind that it is the heightened value of human life and creativity – and not the craving for fame and monetary reward – that should drive us toward new achievements and new discoveries. May our passion for knowledge bring us toward one another, as we constantly strive to make humanity better than it is.

  • How can I help others to elevate the human intellect above the less-than-human emotions we exhibit?

6 – Achieving joy and happiness – The masters of Jewish hasidism remind us that joy is an accomplishment that strengthens the bonds between people, elevates the heart, and enlivens the soul. As humans, we experience the full range of emotion, from joy to sorrow, and from anxiety to contentment. May we discover where joy lives in our hearts, and may we learn how to spread that joy to all those whom we encounter.

  • In what ways can I bring joy and happiness to others in my sphere of influence? How best can I bring gentle joy and avoid deprecating humor?

7 – Finding the freedom of worship – Not only as Americans, but also as Jews, we treasure our tradition of freedom of worship, and we strive to share that freedom with all peoples of the earth. In lands of persecution, and indeed in all lands, may the voice of reason guide those who would wield power over the powerless, and may we all live with the freedom of conscience to believe as we like, to worship – or not to worship – as we please.

  • How can we rightly petition those in government to show the greatest respect for all religions and creeds? How can I honor the religions and religious communities that surround me in our diverse society?

8 – Searching for peace – Our Rabbis remind us that the highest value is seeking peace and pursuing it. Indeed, the pursuit of peace is the only mitzvah in which we must actively engage at all times. May God grant us the strength to bring peace between all men and women in the world, and may God give us the strength to find peace wherever we look.

  • How can I be the most effective instrument of peace, for the community, for the nation, and for the world? How can I serve as a living example to those around me?
June 1, 2020 9 Sivan 5780