by Rabbi Kliel Rose
(Edmonton) – Shalom u’v’racha! Let’s put things into proper perspective here, there are (from the writing of this article) only twelve more shopping days until Hanukkah. And so let me come clean by telling you, I love Hanukkah! Some want to rant about how commercialized the holiday has become, I would rather focus on the brilliance of the themes connected to this special time of the year.
My adoration for this holiday has nothing to do with the pretty decorations, nor does it have to do with the presents I might be able to give or receive. And despite the abundance of oil-laden foods, which we seem to serve with abundance on this holiday, this is not what draws me into this festive occasion. I certainly love lighting the candles with my children, singing familiar and new Hanukkah songs as well as playing Dreidel games (I am a skilled Dreidel spinner a fact not known to many); facets of this holiday which I am sure will continue to be true for years to come.
These reasons are not what excite me most about Hanukkah; rather, I am enamoured by Hanukkah because of the underlying theme connected to the major halachick requirement which is known as pirsumei nisa, making the miracle public by placing the candles in such a manner that they are seen by all — Jews and non-Jews alike. And by this I don’t mean we must erect a huge Hanukiyah in the public square pushing our religious symbols in the faces of the pedestrians passing by in the public square. Ultimately I am a staunch believer in the separation of “church (synagogue) and state.”
For me the act of pirsumei nisa, when we put our candles in the window we give exposure to the miracles of Hanukkah from our own personal dwellings. Not only does it advertise the miracles of Hanukkah, but it reveals that we are proud Jews and do so without trampling on the identity of others. Call it a little bit of a chip on my shoulder, I like sharing my Jewish distinctiveness in a shameless manner. Perhaps this comes from growing up in a culture where being a Jew was such an anomaly (or unique) in a much larger mainly Christian dominated society. I wear this ritual as something of a badge of honour. In part this is due to some of the unflattering associations people have developed about Jews in North America and not ones we would consider noteworthy (fill in whatever ridiculous Hollywood stereotypes exist about us as a people). This Jewish legal requirement becomes a statement of self-respect as a people, one which is based on the inherent ethical values of our tradition; thereby negating some of the negative labels Jews have been associated with either by our own people or by others.
What I want to assert here can be understood by a statement issued by my friend Rabbi Jill Jacobs: “One of the central lessons of the holiday of Hanukkah is that religious communities must reveal what ordinarily remains hidden. The Hanukkah candelabra are lit by a window so that everyone passing by will see the candles and remember — or learn about — the miracle that gave rise to this holiday.”
Of the Jewish holidays only Hanukkah carries this requirement of pirsumei nisa, making the miracle public. “This fact seems even more surprising when we think about what the miracle of Hanukkah was. Depending on which story we like better, the miracle was either that a small group of scrappy guerrilla fighters defeated an imperialist army or that G-d caused a small vial of oil to burn for eight nights.
“In comparison to a sea splitting, frogs falling out of the sky and the overturning of certain genocide, neither of these miracles seem especially spectacular. We could chalk the military victory up to superior strategy or an unparalleled knowledge of the terrain. As for that small vial of oil, the priest who opened the jar might easily have concluded that he had misjudged the amount of fuel.
“But the apparent insignificance of these miracles is the very reason that the celebration of Hanukkah includes the requirement of pirsumei nisa. By placing the menorah in our windows, we reveal these barely perceivable miracles to the world.”
I link this idea to what I believe is an essential truth about Judaism, Jews are responsible and committed to making public what much of the world chooses not to see. We are called to expose the injustices which exist in our society as well as around the globe– trafficked workers held in near servitude, missing indigenous women in our country and the neglect of the homeless. In addition, Jews provide hope by revealing the small miracles that offer a glimmer of light in a dark world: speaking on behalf of thousands of Syrian refugees — those who have been oppressed by a megalomaniac dictator — advocating for them to resettle easily here in Canada, assuring that they become acclimated to our western way of living without diminishing some of their distinct cultural values.
Through the process of revealing both good and bad, we will move closer to the greatest miracle of all: a world that guarantees the dignity of every human being. And in this vein I encourage all of us to really see these “lights” symbolically as truths. It is not enough to simply be moved by the illumination of the candles, we need to become the lamplighters. We can truly embody the Torah’s injunction “to be a light unto the nations” by leading a life infused with prophetic Jewish values called into action to protect the dignity and rights of all people.
I wish you all a Chag Urim Sameach! May it be a period that is illuminated with many brilliant beams as experienced through our interactions with community members and those who were at first strangers now friends. And may we embrace these multiple manifestations of light as we journey back to the light of the Infinite One.
Rabbi Kliel Rose is the Rabbi at Beth Shalom Synagogue in Edmonton.
Additionally Rabbi Rose joined the Ryan Jespersen Show on Friday morning on 630 CHED for the Friday Round Table kicks off joining Dr. Mohyuddin Mirza the Director of External Affairs and Outreach with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Edmonton East and Pastor Kevin Schular who is the Senior Pastor at West Meadows Baptist Church. The men of faith discuss their faiths, Islamaphobia, taking Biblical teachings literally, and the current climate in Canada and around the world.