Chanukah’s Gift to All Humanity

I have had a most illuminating and interesting Chanukah so far.

On the third night of Chanukah, I shared some Chanukah and seasonal insights at the AIPAC Connects Holiday Party. This initiative of AIPAC attempts to build bridges with communities that haven’t traditionally had a relationship with Israel and create more allies for a strong US-Israel relationship.

Chanukah lighting at AIPAC Connects event

The Jews in attendance were a very small minority, but the Chanukah spirit was strong.

The AIPAC event came the night after a Chanukah celebration in our home with an Imam and two Evangelical Pastors and their families.  I know – A Rabbi, two Pastors and an Imam walk into a room…

Rabbi, Pastors, Imam, and families come together for Chanukah

I met these clergymen on a recent visit to Rabat, Morocco to participate in a gathering of rabbis, imams, and Evangelical pastors from 20 US cities coming together to get to know each other better and find ways to work together and enhance peace, coexistence, and mutual recognition.  It was wonderful having Imam Talib, Guy, and Taylor over for latkes and sufganiyot and to meet other’s families.  It was even more wonderful to hear how Chanukah has such powerful resonance for people of different faiths.

This makes sense.

Jewish law states that the most appropriate time to light Chanukah candles is at sunset.  However if for whatever reason it is not done at sunset, the Talmud states that one can light Chanukah candles “until there are no more pedestrians coming back from market.” The Talmud goes on to explain that that the very last people to go home from the market were the “Tarmoda’i,” merchants who sold small twigs to other merchants as firewood. One is allowed to light Chanukah candles so long as these Tarmoda’i have not made it home yet.

What is fascinating to note is that according to Rashi, these Tarmoda’i were not Jewish. It emerges that the criteria for lighting Chanukah candles is not necessarily that Jews should see the Chanukah lights. So long as any individual – Jew or non-Jew – would see the Chanukah candles, one has fulfilled the obligation to publicize the miracle of Chanukah. The question is why does it help to publicize this Jewish miracle to non-Jews?

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik suggested that the victory of Chanukah deserves the attention of the non-Jewish world as well.  As opposed to other celebrations of victory and salvation (for example- Purim), on Chanukah there is no indication that the physical lives of the Jewish people were at stake.  Rather the threat that the Maccabees encountered was an existential, spiritual one.  To fight for one’s life is something that all people would do – even animals use their instincts to fight for survival.  In the battle of Chanukah, however, the Jews fought with similar vigor to defend their right to live Jewish lives. That is something that not everyone understands. Jews and non-Jews need to recognize that values are worth fighting for, even worth dying for.  It is this aspect of the story and victory that is appropriate to publicize to all – even non-Jews.

As we celebrate Chanukah, let us ask ourselves: What are the values and causes for which we are willing to fight? If we cannot think of any causes that we feel such passion for, then we need to look at the Chanukah lights a little longer for some inspiration.

About the Author
Rabbi Elie Weinstock is Rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City. A believer in a Judaism that is accessible to all, he prefers "Just Judaism" to any denominational label.
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