Blessings over Fear — Hanukkah 2018

It is in the darkest times that we must seek the light.

In the coldest, blackest time of the year, we are given the gift of Hanukkah.

Its lessons are more important now than ever.

Imagine a time when trust has been broken, faith has been shattered, and there is infighting amongst brothers and sisters. This is the context of the Hanukkah story.

And yet, what we focus on is a miracle.

A miracle of exceeded expectations.
A miracle of rebuilding.
A miracle of light.

As a result, the rabbis instituted these days as days of gratitude and gladness and they define the mitzvah, in celebrating this holiday, as persumei nisa, to publicize that miracle.

And so, the Shulkhan Arukh informs us on how we do that publicizing:

“One should place the Hanukkah light at the entrance which adjoins the public domain, on the outside. If the house opens to the public domain, one should place it at its entrance.” (source)

The emphasis, throughout the Halakhah, is placing the hanukkiyot in view of the public, for all to see. We’re told that we should find a unique place for the lights so that people will know of the miracles. We’re told to light at a time when people are most likely to be crossing the path of your home.

However, this wasn’t always true. The text continues:

“In a time of danger, when one is not allowed to perform mitzvot, it is enough that the person places it on their table.”

For many this custom is the norm.

It has often been dangerous for Jews to light the candles and so, as a people, we’ve identified a way to celebrate this holiday regardless. Even when it is too dark outside, we still cling to the light.

However, if we do this and light on our tables instead of the window, we miss a huge opportunity. An opportunity for relationship, connection, and blessing.

The Talmud describes a tradition that hasn’t made it to the present but I think it is one of the most important aspects of this holiday.

It is one we must cling to with everything we have. The Talmud teaches:

“Rav Ḥiyya bar Ashi said that Rav said: One who lights a Hanukkah light must recite a blessing. And Rabbi Yirmeya said: One who sees a burning Hanukkah light must recite a blessing.” (source)

This identifies two important blessings.

First, the one we’re accustomed to reciting, to light the candles.

The second blessing is the one that we’ve lost but can reclaim, it is the one who sees the lights. In the text, we use the term, HaRo’eh, the one who sees.

This person must be paying attention, peering up and out, and looking for opportunities.
This person seeks out the lights in others and blesses them.
This person sees light in the midst of all the darkness.

We have a choice, at this time of the year, at this point in history, and in reflecting on this holiday.

We can choose to live in the darkness. This would be that we stay angry and not hopeful, mistrusting and not connecting, and fighting and not rebuilding.

I reject this option.

Instead, I wish to live in relationship with the light.

I want to be lifted by hope, to see blessings in strangers, and to have my expectations exceeded. I desire a world filled with the light of others, with the rebuilding of the temple of trust, and to kindle relationships with curiosity.

This season, in the darkest time of the year, I will be looking for the lights.
Will you bless them with me?

About the Author
Rabbi Jeremy Markiz lives in Pittsburgh and serves as the Director Derekh and Youth Tefillah at Congregation Beth Shalom. There he seeks to explore how, through the lens of Torah, we can inspire justice, love of all people, and build healthy and meaningful relationships with each other and God. Judaism and Torah have the power to make us better human beings when we bring all ourselves to engage with tough questions and the world around us. He also runs the blog, The Rabbi's Manual, where he strives to help other rabbis become better rabbis, teachers, and leaders.
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