The Daily Portion
Three Hanukkah candle messages

We light a small flame this evening that tells a story about the past heroism of our ancestors, but this year we are heroes too.

Sivan Rahav-Meir ,

Hanukkah (illustrative)
Hanukkah (illustrative)
Nati Shohat/Flash90
This evening we light the first Hanukkah candle. According to a well-known Hassidic saying, "We need to listen to what the candles are telling us." We are accustomed to remain beside the candles for thirty minutes while gazing intently at them, without cell phones or other disturbances.

So what are the candles telling us?

First of all, that we have not forgotten. When we say "Hanukkah candle" we are referring to the small jug whose oil was enough for one day, not eight. But the miracle of Hanukkah is also the fact that 90% of the Jews in Israel light Hanukkah candles according to a poll taken last year. This is not a statistic to be taken for granted. We could have forgotten, lost our way, assimilated, but thousands of years later we are here, singing about a small family from Modi'in who vanquished a great empire. Hanukkah is the holiday that reminds us of the primary challenge we faced in those days and is still with us now: to preserve our values and unique identity in a seductive world of false desires. Every candle that will be lit tonight, in Israel and throughout the world, is a small victory over this challenge.

Second, the candles light up our home and cause us to look at it differently. For it seems that after an entire year spent at home, another holiday arrives that the corona forces us to spend entirely inside. Yet Hanukkah is not just another lockdown but a reminder to become excited about the glowing lights. Not just to complain about how we are stuck inside, but to find light within the four walls of our home. Other nations celebrate in the streets and light up the center of town, while the Jewish story is passed down from generation to generation by means of a simple candle that parents and children light next to a window. This candle teaches us that we do not need to go outside in order to celebrate. The true celebration is found inside, within the home.

Third, the candles teach us about self-sacrifice. This Hanukkah idea always sounded ancient to me, not connected to us but only to previous generations who were called upon to make heroic sacrifices. But we should not minimize what we are doing here together with all the limitations and oppressive distancing. This is the Hanukkah of 2020. We can all look back with pride and see what we did to preserve the health, livelihoods and even lives of others: attending classes on ZOOM, isolating, arranging tiny weddings, sitting shiva without visitors to console us, holding small prayer services held outside in the heat of summer and in the rain, and on and on.

We light a small flame this evening that tells a story about the past heroism of our ancestors, but this year we are heroes too. This year we also know something about self-sacrifice for the sake of lasting values.

Happy Hanukkah

• Translation by Yehoshua Siskin.