Tonight we celebrate the fourth night of Chanukah. This holiday was declared by Judah Maccabee (approximately 164 BCE) after the Jewish minority were victorious over the Greeks who had taken over the land of Israel and had imposed harsh restrictions on Jewish practice and observance.
The victory celebrates religious freedom, the freedom to live life on our own terms, without being subject to the harshness of life under duress.
For most, we were born into a life of freedom. Some members of our community however, truly know how precious this gift is: having emigrated to the Greater Boston Area from the then Communist regimes of the former Soviet Union or other Soviet bloc countries. They experienced first-hand the notion of “pidyon shvoo’im” – redeeming the captive, and they know what it means to truly celebrate a chanukat habayit – the dedication of their own home, where they can live freely as they choose, without fear, without censorship, with all the rights and responsibilities that freedom entails. This is what Chanukah is all about: the ability to live freely as one chooses, to celebrate religion as a free people. Freedom means having clothes to wear, food to eat, a bed in which to sleep, a welcoming and safe place to call “home.”
However, despite the fact that we have many freedoms, we are still living in dark times. We know all too well that there are many people for whom oppression and exile, war and famine have become the “norm.” Hatred and violence rage on. Injustices prevail.
The Jewish community here in MetroWest (the communities in the western suburbs of Boston) has opened our arms and hearts to those who suffer. We light our candles on Chanukah as a beacon of light and hope to all.
Last Friday evening, one of the Kurdish Syrian Refugee families whom we are sponsoring, the Hamzas, were part of our Shabbat evening service at the Biennial of the Union for Reform Judaism conference in Boston. The Hamzas came to MetroWest after fleeing from war-torn Syria in 2014.
Mizgin Hamza, the mother, wrote the most beautiful prayer, which she read in Arabic with one of her daughters reading with her antiphonally, in English. This family, this beautiful prayer, inspired and moved all 6500 Reform Jews who gathered from North America, Israel and other parts of the world at the Reform Movements as we prepared to sing: “Mi Chamocha” – our Jewish prayer which we recite twice daily reminding us of our own liberation from bondage in Egypt. On this 5th night of Chanukah, I share Mizgin’s prayer with you now:
O God, Ruler of Rulers, who renders decisions and is capable of all,
I stand before You on this blessed Friday night to say a prayer for all our friends in this room
To fill their paths with light
To protect them from evil
To protect them from all danger.
O angels on high,
I ask you to come to this world and make it beautiful
And to extinguish its fires
And to open the doors of goodness and blessing and to bestow on them your mercy, oh God.
We are lacking and You are perfect, O God.
O God, You are the Knower of all.
O God, You are the way, now and always,
O God, please heed my prayer.
Let Mizgin’s prayer remind us that no matter what our religion, we are all God’s children, we are all created “b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of God.” The lessons of our past and the lessons of the Torah remind us that it is not just our own who are created b’tzelem Elohim, it is every single human being. The lights of Chanukah teach us, that if we kindle one spark, that spark can ignite multiple flames and create a roaring fire that will light up even the darkest night – that is, if we save one life, it is as if we have saved an entire world.
The lights of Chanukah will burn more brightly when we do something to bring light to those who live in darkness.
The lights of Chanukah will cast a warmer glow, when we try to find an end to war and injustice, oppression and exile, racism, hunger and pain.
So as we watch our candles burn and glow this Chanukah, this Festival of Lights , let us make a promise to keep the flame alive: as a promise of hope, a promise of freedom, a promise of life.