A Sabbath Message: Shining a Light in the Darkness – Hanukkah Edition

“A candle is a small thing. But one candle can light another. And see how its own light increases as a candle gives its flame to the other. You are such a light.” – Rabbi Moshe Davis, (1916–1996)

On this first day of Hanukkah, as Sabbath arrives, we light a second candle on a holiday like no other we have ever experienced. But, we do have love, light – and hope on the horizon. In many ways, the message of Hanukkah resonates with our current journey more than ever before. The legend of the brave Maccabees who were victorious over the tyrant Antiochus who wanted to outlaw Judaism in 167 BCE is a familiar story – the weak over the strong prevailing against all odds. And, of course, when the Maccabees seek to restore the Temple in Jerusalem, desecrated by the enemy, they find only one small cruse of oil to last one day, but miraculously, it lasts the eight days for which we now celebrate our Festival of Lights. Only hope could bring this miracle, along with the faith that better days are coming, if we stand together in unity. It is this hope and faith which has kept us together as a people, knowing that light would follow the darkness. And perhaps this is that same faith we can hold fast to now during these days of uncertainty.

We may be at home this Hanukkah, but we need not be completely on our own – your community is with you. Although this festival is generally celebrated at home, we know it is difficult not to be with extended family in big celebrations – and I hope next year will be a very different story. Remember to reach out to us or others if you need support or a virtual shoulder. And, if you need Hanukkah supplies, we still have some, mostly candles, available. Please contact Ruby Vargeson at rvargeson@sbjf.org if we can help.

In the meantime, there are various online celebrations and Hanukkah festivities for you to participate in from your own home. Here at Federation, we are hosting a Community Hanukkah Celebration as part of our Get Baked Hanukkah Edition for the final candle on Thursday, December 17th. Or, you and your kids may want to join the Chabad Hanukkah Zoom Camp, Sunday 12/13–Wednesday, 12/16 from 5:00–6:00 PM. Join each night at sbchabad.org/zoom or call Shterna at 805-636-5605. Congregation B’nai B’rith is also having nightly Hanukkah Menorah lighting throughout the festival. And, of course, since geography is no obstacle, there are out of town options, too. Recently, the Los Angeles Times ran a terrific article: Have Hanukkah Fun from Home – Enjoy Latke Making Classes, Sing-Alongs and a Puppetry Performance OnlineWhy not check out some of those ideas?

Last week, the message I shared with you was about finding light during these dark days – now I remind you to SHINE A LIGHT in this time of darkness. Again, it is a choice and believe me, the world needs each and every one of us! And yes, I have said it before, but it bears repeating: One key way to shine your light in our community is to support the important work we do here at the Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Service. In these dark days of severely increased mental health needs and food insecurity, the urgency has never been greater, and the right time has never been better than right now. At this very moment, we are working very hard to close our 2020 Campaign with strength, so we can continue to do the important work we do every day, which we would be unable to do without your generosity! Please remember that each and every gift makes a huge difference and shines a light in the darkness of despair. This feels like a year for giving. In our family, in lieu of gifts, we are each choosing a charity of our choice and gifting each other donations – to make our difference. I know my choice!  Perhaps, this act of giving would work in your family, reminding ourselves of the importance of giving, when so much was taken from so many this year. If we all give what we can, imagine how full of light and hope our world would be. During this Festival of Lights, we can all be such a light. Donate online at jewishsantabarbara.org/donate.

There is a Talmudic story which is often told of a famous Hanukkah debate between the great Rabbis Hillel and Shammai. Nearly 2,000 years ago, these two scholarly houses disputed many matters of ritual legal practice, ethics and theology, but one of the most well-known arguments had to do with the appropriate way to light a Hanukkiah, the proper word for a Hanukkah menorah. Although the reasoning was complex, Rabbi Shammai believed that all eight lights should be lit on the first night, and decreased each night by one, as we should begin with our “maximum potential” for fulfilling the commandment. On the other hand, Rabbi Hillel felt that we should begin on the first night with one light, and increase by one on each succeeding night, such that on the final night, we end up with all eight lights, so that we are always increasing in matters of holiness, and never decreasing. Of course, we know that Rabbi Hillel won this argument – and frankly, many others. For me, this is one of the most beautiful lessons of Hanukkah. If we can live our lives in such a way that we try to always increase light and holiness in the world by our actions and deeds, then together we all contribute to the work of Tikkun Olam – Repairing the World each and every day as a people and as a community.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a Chag Hanukkah Sameach – a joyous Hanukkah and a time of light and hope,

Ruth Steinberg, LCSW
Director, Jewish Family Service


Photo caption: A Hanukkah gift from the natural world: On a recent hike, I spotted this menorah of lavender, a sign from the universe that Hanukkah was on its way to bring light to us all.