Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’m having a hard time feeling joyous and preparing to celebrate Hanukkah with so many fellow Jews being murdered and maimed and living with fear in Israel. Should we perhaps not celebrate Hanukkah this year, or at least consider it a solemn day instead of a joyous one under the circumstances?
— Kaylie J.
I will answer you in the context of an unspeakable tragedy that recently occurred in Israel which should serve as a beacon of hope for us all. A couple of weeks ago, in Israel, a nephew of my aunt, Rabbi Yaakov Litman, was driving with his family on the way to spend Shabbat with the family of the soon-to-be groom of his daughter Sarah, when he and his son were brutally shot and murdered by a Palestinian terrorist. The following week was spent by the family sitting shiva rather than celebrating a wedding.
This past Thursday night the bride, Sarah Litman, and her groom, Ariel Bigel, invited all of the Jewish people to celebrate their wedding. Jews from America raised funds by crowdfunding to help defray the costs and to participate wherever they were even if they couldn’t be there. The couple, who printed an invitation for all of Klal Yisrael to join them, began the invitation with the verse “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy, for I have fallen but I have gotten up” (Micah 7:8). There was not a dry eye at that wedding — I wept while watching it online — but there also was not a greater celebration that I have ever seen, with many thousands in attendance, far too many to fit inside the hall, dancing outside in tandem with all those dancing and celebrating inside.
The Jewish people across the world all felt this is their wedding, and that no terrorist can stop the Jewish people, their growth and celebration. The deep belief and conviction of the Litman and Bigel families, both families of Torah scholars, sent a message to the world that despite the many attempts to stop us, Am Yisrael Chai!
Hanukkah is unique in one sense, that the mitzvos we normally fulfill on a Jewish holiday are during the day, such as shaking a lulav, blowing a shofar, etc., and not at night. (Passover is an exception for the reason that the night of Passover never got dark with the bright light of the Shechinah as hinted at in the Haggadah, so we consider Passover eve a “day,” not a night.)
Only on Hanukkah do we fulfill the main mitzvah of the holiday, the lighting of the candles, at night and not during the day. On a simple level this is because the miracle was performed via the menorah, which is lit at night.
On a deeper level this carries a profound message, which is the lesson of Hanukkah.
Day and night in our tradition are representative of God’s revealing Himself at times in our history, by performing miracles such as Pesach, the “days”; and the times that He hides Himself from us, like during times of pogroms, inquisitions and holocausts, the “nights.” All of the Torah’s holidays are in the Jewish summer; Pesach begins the summer and Sukkot ends it. In the summer the days are longer than the nights, meaning that the light overcomes the darkness, the revelation overcomes the hiddenness of God.
The winter, however, represents the times the nights are longer than the days; the darkness overcomes the light, the hiddenness of God overcomes His revelation. During such times it’s easy to forget there’s a God, or to think He has forsaken us.
This is the message of Hanukkah, during the winter, a rabbinical holiday which took place during our time of exile, a time of darkness. The miracle of light showed us that even in the darkest times the light of Torah still shines and the Al-mighty is still with us and has not forsaken us. It is the miracle of hope, which takes us through the toughest times and gives us the strength and fortitude to march onward. Hanukkah teaches us to be joyous even when we would seem to be overtaken by sorrow.
The lesson of the Litman-Bigel families, of the bride and groom, is the message of Hanukkah. The Jewish people and the light of the Torah, reminiscent in the light of the menorah, continues to shine and a little bit of light offsets even the deepest darkness. They cannot defeat the eternal nation or our joy; Am Yisrael Chai!
A joyous and meaningful Hanukkah to all the readers, and blessings of peace and comforting to our brethren in Israel and throughout the world.
Dear Rabbi Fried,