By Rabbi Levi Greenberg
Often in conversation nowadays people share with me that — although they continue following social distancing guidelines and all — they are emotionally done with this virus. The constant disruption of daily life, the economic and emotional devastation and, of course, the public health crisis is dragging on for much too long. When it started we thought it would be a simple bump in the road, but here we are eight months later dealing with it in even greater measure.
If only it would just go away.
You can’t wish away a virus, or any crisis for that matter, and the Jewish holiday of Chanukah teaches us an important lesson about coping with our challenging times.
Over 2,000 years ago the ancient Syrian Greek empire conquered the land of Israel and commenced a tyrannical campaign of persecution against the Jews. They seized and defiled the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, effectively dismantling organized Jewish life. It was a time of darkness and despondency.
After several years of unbearable religious persecution, a small group of devout Jews – commonly known as the Maccabees — revolted and miraculously decimated the occupying forces, ushering in an era of relative peace for close to a century.
When they prepared to rededicate the Holy Temple service of lighting the seven branched candelabrum — the menorah — they found only one night’s supply of ritually pure olive oil and replenishing the supply would take eight days. With complete trust in G-d they lit the menorah and were overjoyed when the seven flames miraculously burned for eight days and nights.
In celebration, Chanukah was born.Instead of focusing on the military victory, the eight-day festival is observed by kindling flames for eight nights in commemoration of the miracle of the oil. However, whereas the same amount of candles were lit in the Holy Temple every day in broad daylight, the holiday observance was instituted so that every individual lights an increasing amount of candles, in their home, specifically after dark.
Chanukah this year begins on Thursday, Dec. 10, and continues through Friday, Dec. 18. Chabad Lubavitch will stream a menorah lighting on its Facebook page at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, and have a drive-in Chanukah event at the West Towne Marketplace, 6450 N. Desert Blvd., from 3:30-5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13. The menorah that day will be lighted at approximately 4:30 p.m.
Far from being a commemoration of the distant past, the Chanukah lights inspire us here and now to the unique ability we all have to brighten a dark world. You can’t banish darkness through brute force, condemnation or wishful thinking. Only by introducing light — even very little light.
The one flame we kindle on the first night of Chanukah proves that even one good deed can brighten a dark environment. The next day we cannot be satisfied with yesterday’s accomplishments because living things must grow; light, goodness and kindness must increase every day.
This observance is done at home to remind us in a most obvious way that illumination begins at home, within oneself and one’s family, but does not stop there. The nature of light that when one kindles a light for one’s own benefit, it benefits also all who are in the vicinity.
As we continue to face this unprecedented crisis in our community and throughout the world, let us be heartened by the message of the Chanukah lights, that although we can’t wish it away, we can certainly brighten up our reality with increasing acts of goodness and kindness, starting with one single positive act.
On a practical note, beyond the Chanukah observance, I suggest having a designated giving box at home and at work. Every day place a little bit of money in the box for charity and when filled give the value of the contents to a worthy cause. It’s a small gesture of kindness, but when done daily it can have a profound impact on ourselves and our families. Share this observance with everyone you know and together we can make our world a more peaceful place for all.
Cover photo: State Rep. Joe Moody, center, joined Rabbis Levi Greenberg, left, and Yisrael Greenberg in lighting a giant menorah outside Chabad Lubavitch of El Paso in 2014. (Photo courtesy of Chabad Lubavitch)
Levi Greenberg is associate rabbi at Chabad Lubavitch in El Paso.