Messages of Hanukkah, and women in the Tanakh

Dear Families,

The holiday of Hanukkah is more than a children’s holiday — it has an amazing story. Did you know the Maccabees were zealots? Did you know the fight began as one of Jew against Jew? Do you know that the real fear was not physical extermination but spiritual annihilation? The message to us is one of standing up for our beliefs because we know what we believe and we are proud of who we are. Let us teach our children to know who they are through our learning and understanding. The current challenges and issues in our country demonstrate the importance of this. This year there will be community celebrations with the theme of “Shine a Light on Anti-Semitism.” The hope and belief is that we are not alone standing up. Hanukkah at home and with family and friends is wonderful but please come to one of the many community opportunities to stand with all.

Hanukkah is a holiday with many wonderful rituals, and families continue to create new traditions to teach the special messages which are part of the historical event — a wonderful opportunity. What are the messages we want our children to understand? Despite pressure to conform, Mattathias and his five sons refused to bow down to idols. Being a Maccabee, whether long ago or today, means fighting for the right to be different and being proud of those differences. We also teach our children that being small does not mean being insignificant. The Jewish people have always been small in number, but we have always been strong in spirit. We know that each of us can make a difference in the world! And this is the legacy of the Maccabees and the celebration of Hanukkah!

A number of years ago at this piece was written to highlight different values and women of the Tanakh. Did you know that there is a tradition that women do not need to work while the Hanukkah candles are burning? (That’s after making the latkes!) There are so many lessons to be talked about with our children and the adults that we celebrate with. So enjoy Amy Soule’s candle lighting or use it to create your own meaning for each night — perhaps a value with current Jewish heroes? (And if you do, please share.)

1. Justice: Deborah was a great judge respected for her sage and hopeful counsel. (Judges 4:1-5:31)

2. Peace: Serach bat Asher brought peace and comfort to Jacob by telling him gently, through song, that his son Joseph had not been killed, as reported by his brothers. (Midrash Ha-Gadol, Genesis 46:25)

3. Sisterhood: It was Rachel, not her father, who ensured that her sister Leah would have the honor of being Jacob’s first spouse. Rachel taught Leah how to imitate her so Jacob had no idea it was Leah under the chuppah (marriage canopy). In this way, Rachel saw to it that no shame came to Leah. (BT: Bava Batra 123a)

4. Loving kindness: Rivka showed exceptional kindness at the well to Isaac’s servant Eliezer and to his camels by drawing enough water to satisfy the thirst of both man and animal. Thus did Eliezer find a kind and loving wife for Isaac. (Genesis 24:16-22)

5. Compassion: Miriam had a vision that her mother would give birth to a child destined to become a great leader. She shared this vision with her parents, giving them the courage to have another child despite Pharaoh’s decree to kill all male infants. Miriam’s brother Moses grew up to be that great leader, shepherding our people from bondage to freedom. (Exodus Rabbah 1:22)

6. Understanding: Pharaoh’s daughter rescued Moses from the water, then raised him under her father’s nose and let his biological mother nurse him. God renamed her Batya (daughter of God) in recognition of her great understanding of a people who were “supposed to be” her enemies. (Leviticus Rabbah 1:3)

7. Joy: Sarah demonstrated great joy after hearing that she was to have a child at the age of 90. Her happiness at this news reminds us to celebrate everything positive that occurs, even — and perhaps especially — the seemingly impossible. (Genesis 18:10-15)

8. Love: Lot’s wife, Idit, looked back at her children and brethren while escaping Sodom, an act of selfless love that resulted in her being reduced to a pillar of salt, which represented her tears. (Pirkei de Rebbe Eliezer 25:160 a/b)

Hanukkah is a joyful and fun holiday — but add a little learning!!

Laura Seymour is director of Jewish Experiential Learning and Camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.

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