By Rabbi Scott Kramer
It took me a while decide how to express my feelings about Chanukah, which are many and varied. I could talk about the so-called ‘miracle’ of the rededicated Temple menorah one-day supply of oil that lasted for eight days. I could talk about the military victory of the weak (Jews/Hasmoneans) over the mighty (Assyrians). I could talk about the December Dilemma that affects most if not all Jewish families. All of these themes are well and good, but they do not reflect my feelings for this year at this time and place.
My immediate concern is for the health and welfare of our community. We are not only going through suffering with the pandemic, but also with illness of age and having several deaths makes me concerned not just for our community, but also the Alabama community and our country. We need to protect ourselves and our families from Covid-19 by practicing common sense measures we all know so well.
Things keep happening that postpone the ‘happy’ and ‘content’ feeling that I - and probably you - desperately need and crave. Events in our lives draw us, as the rapidly approaching cold season does to that dark place.
The days are getting shorter and soon we will wake up in the dark and come home from work in the dark and I don’t just mean that metaphorically. All of these things added together tend to make things bleak, depressing and downright scary.
Yet, in the middle of the bleakest and blackest of times with the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, we see the barest of a flicker of light. Each day for eight straight days, the flicker gets ever so brighter or more intense. The light penetrates and contrasts the darkness all around us. What is that light? Is it just the light of our chanukiot that we see in our window sills from the dark outside or is it something else?
We live in an age of moral decay, war, government corruption and excess, great economic divide between the rich and poor. Yet the indomitable human spirit triumphs in times of tragedy and need. When pushed to our limits we reach deep inside ourselves and discover vast strengths that we did not know existed. Do we have to give in to the dominant culture around us, do as they do and act as they act? Our Jewish tradition is rich and deep and envisions the values of tolerance, kindness, faithfulness and obedience. We trust in God to protect us, but we have a part in that as well. We must be true to ourselves and our co-religionists.
If we stick together we will help each other out of the darkness to live and see the spring when life begins anew and hope and faith again fill the air, along with the vaccine that we have hoped and prayed for!
So, Chanukah is not just a military victory, a miracle of oil, or just about latkes, elly donuts, playing dreidel and getting and giving presents. It is not about having a holiday to compete with Christmas.
It is much deeper and meaningful than all of that. It is about all of us together rescuing each other from the depths of our troubles and from the times when we have no faith in God or man or ourselves. In Pirkei Avot, the ethics of our Fathers, it says, “If I am not for myself, who will be? If not now, when?” So, take this time and use it to perfect your faith in Judaism and your fellow Jews. Read a Jewish book, commit to attending services on a more regular basis, (online at aieamontgomery.org), schedule Zoom time with me to discuss theological or religious issues that you are struggling with. Use your time wisely for the short period that we grace this planet.
I wish each and every one of you Chanukat Sameach, one that brings light from the darkness and carries us through to see a bright new day.