The most common name for the festival that begins this evening is “Hanukkah.” However, the festival is also known by another name – the “Festival of Lights” – and the question is why. The most obvious answer is that this name refers to the candles that we light in commemoration of the oil in the Temple’s menorah that was only sufficient to last for one day but that, miraculously, lasted for eight.
But there is another way to understand the meaning of this name, alluded to in a popular Israeli children’s song for Hanukkah, which I believe has particular meaning and relevance to us today. Here is the first stanza of the song followed by the chorus:
.באנו חושך לגרש, בידינו אור ואש. כל אחד הוא אור קטן, וכולנו-אור איתן
!סורה חושך-הלאה שחור! סורה-מפני האור
We have come to banish the darkness, in our hands light and fire. Every person is a small light, and together- we are a strong light.
Go away darkness-move on blackness! Go away-before the light!
This song depicts a world filled with darkness and despair which we, the Jewish people, seek to banish by ushering in light. But to what light does the song refer? At first the song refers to the light that we hold in our hands, i.e., the candles that we light on Hanukkah. Yet from the following sentence it appears that the writer had something else in mind. Each one of us is a light, and when we come together, that light radiates outward, thus banishing the darkness from the world.
Since October 7th the Jewish people have been living in a world filled with darkness. From the unspeakable atrocities committed by Hamas against our people on that horrible day, to the despicable psychological abuse that this evil terror organization has continued to inflict upon us since then, to the appalling rise in antisemitism on college campuses and on the streets around the world, to the deafening silence of international organizations meant to protect the lives of the innocent, to the infuriating refusal of the presidents of elite universities to categorically condemn and outlaw calls for genocide against the Jewish people, we are now living in the dreariest and darkest times that we have known since the Holocaust.
Yet, throughout all of this, we, the Jews in Israel and around the world, have been shining a great light. From the moment the war began we have put aside our differences and worked together in unprecedented fashion to provide meals, clothing, medical supplies, toys, books, transportation, and emotional support for both soldiers and the thousands of families who were forced to evacuate their homes. Jews of all backgrounds, stripes and colors have been contributing of their time and money to do whatever is necessary, and beyond, to help one another during these difficult times. We have, each in our own way, become a light to those around us.
Furthermore, we are determined to bring our individual lights together to shine one bright light, which is best expressed in the slogan “ביחד ננצח” – “together we will be victorious” – which can be seen on television, on tall buildings, on buses and on the streets, and virtually everywhere you turn. These words reflect our sense of solidarity and our understanding that only when we work together can light and goodness overcome the forces of darkness and evil.
Let us, therefore, hope and pray that on this Hanukkah – the Festival of Lights – our light will shine brightly and drive away the darkness that has pervaded so much of society at this time.