By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
Me and some of my Jewish friends are seniors in a Dallas public high school. We all usually light Hanukkah candles, but we feel a little uneasy doing a celebration this year when Israel is at war and some kids our age already are in the army fighting and even dying in Gaza. How can we light and sing when other Jews are in danger and so many Jews have died?
We Jews, unfortunately, are not new at this and throughout our long exiles have been many times “around the block” when it comes to antisemitism and Jews being killed for the sin of being Jewish. In fact, many stories abound how Jews managed to somehow light Hanukkah candles in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps, often endangering their own lives in the process.
The very Hanukkah lights themselves commemorate the menorah lit miraculously in times of Greek persecutions and decrees against our right to live and observe as Jews.
The Greek exile is likened to a deep period of darkness, when the light of the Torah was nearly snuffed out by their decrees against the study of Torah, punishable by death. The Jewish rebellion, led by the Maccabees, was the war of good against evil, light versus darkness. One reason that our celebration is by lighting a menorah rather than eating festive meals, is that the way to celebrate our victory of light over darkness and good against evil is by bringing more light into the world. While other holidays celebrate our physical redemption, Hanukkah is mainly a celebration of a spiritual victory, so we celebrate it in a spiritual way.
The menorah which was lit in the Temple in Jerusalem was the light of the Torah which shone from Zion throughout the world. Hence the verse, “from Zion emanates the Torah and the word of G-d from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3). It represents the Jews’ being a “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 49:6). The Greeks sought to remove us from being a light unto the nations by removing our source of light, the holy Torah.
By rekindling the menorah in that Temple, the Maccabees ensured that we remain Jewish and retain that holy mission we were entrusted with by the Al-mighty.
Whenever we kindle the Hanukkah candles, we are reaffirming that purpose and the eternity of the Jewish people. The Hanukkah candles represent the unbreakable resolve of the Jewish people to remain true to our connection to G-d, despite any and all adversity, through the study and observance of the Torah. With that we affirm our steadfast belief that the Al-mighty will not forsake us in return. Hence, against all the odds and the most profound times of darkness, we are still here!
Today we are surrounded by a profound darkness. The most hateful forms of antisemitism have surrounded us in a most shocking and frightening way, from places and people we least expected. It has emerged, from all places, in support of the most sickening and barbaric massacre since the Holocaust. It is precisely during times like this that we light the Hanukkah candles. With them we celebrate our eternity. We light them with a new resolve to embrace our Judaism as never before, for by embracing it we become one with the light of the Hanukkah candles, the eternal light which they cannot and will not ever put out!
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of DATA–Dallas Area Torah Association.