It takes only a few seconds.
It’s a small simple act.
Put a flame to the candle and you’ve done the deed of Hanukkah.
While most people embellish this straightforward ritual with songs, presents and oil-drenched foods, the lighting of the flame remains the essential and central piece of this holiday.
But when we look closer and deeper into this act, we see that when we light the Hanukkah menorah what we are doing is nothing less than changing and fixing the world.
The lights of Hanukkah take us back to the beginning moments of the universe and the creation of a mysterious light that was neither our sun nor any other star as those were created only on day four. This light was a spiritual light that gives meaning to our physical existence and reminds us that, despite the darkness we might see around us, the original intention of Creation, of all of reality, was light. And God saw this light and “it was good”.
The lights remind us of the golden menorah that stood in the Temple on Jerusalem for a combined total of over 800 years, kindled every single day by the priests not for the need of its physical illumination but rather as a sign and as a symbol that the point and purpose of the Temple, and by extension all of Judaism, was to radiate light into this world. That our actions, our deeds, even our thoughts should all be geared towards making our world a better place. That we should wake up each day and ask ourselves what we can do to “kindle the lights” of our world.
The lights remind us that essentially it’s the seemingly small acts performed by regular people that change our world. It’s the determination of everyday folk to do good, be good, and value good that transforms us from a self-serving society into one that serves others. That it’s not always the big sudden events of our world that make the biggest and most lasting change but rather, like the increasing number of lights in the Hanukkah menorah each night, the steady accumulation of smaller acts that guide our world towards betterment.
The lights remind us of our ancestors who, oppressed by the Greeks and forced to give up the beliefs and practices that uniquely made them who they are, took a stand, fought back, rose up and demanded their freedom and their independence to live their lives the way they wished. That sometimes for the sake of peace and justice and goodness, one must actively protest and fight and not wait for miracles from Above.
The lights remind us of the need to pause and notice and focus on the light that is already in the world. The custom to stare into the Hanukkah lights reminds us that sometimes it takes time and contemplation to see the small lights of our world and the importance of not overlooking them or dispeling them as insignificant. To not be overwhelmed by the darkness that persists in our world and at times even grows. To have faith and believe that in the end, like the Maccabees, light will prevail, human society will improve and we will succeed in fulfilling the original purpose of Creation, the original message of the original light, that of fixing the world.
Happy Hanukkah. Happy Festival of Lights. Happy Changing the World.