My six-year old nephew Max is a wonderful combination of raucous Ninja-turtle-loving boy and mature-beyond-his years sensitive soul.
I love sitting with him in restaurants as he spontaneously compliments our server by telling her: “You’re beautiful!” Or, when we’re at a family gathering, he will suddenly tell everyone: “I love you! Group hug!”
So when my sister-in-law posted this photo of Max on Facebook from the first night of Chanukah, I wasn’t surprised to see the most beautiful expression of joy on his face as he observed his Chanukiyah with its glowing candles (a Chanukiyah is a menorah specifically used for Chanukah. A menorah is any multi-branched candelabrum). He made this chanukiyah himself and his face is just radiant – like the candles:
Max, and his nine-year-old sister Zoe, care about the world around them. Even at their young ages, they understand that not everyone feels the warmth and glow of the holiday lights, or the love of family and friends, or the feeling of having food in their bellies or the security of a safe and secure home.
The word “chanukah” means “dedication.” Historically, our holiday is a celebration of religious freedom – freedom of the Jewish people’s right to practice our own religion in our own country in safety and security. We celebrate the rededication of our Temple in Jerusalem which had been desecrated by the Greek/Syrian army in 165 BCE. The actual ritual celebration evolved to become a “Festival of Lights.”
(For a more complete description of Chanukah – please see the description here: History of Chanukah)
There are those who still threaten to fracture our world today. Every day, we read of examples of xenophobia (fear of foreigners or “the other”), hatred, violence, war, bloodshed, refugees with nowhere to go, hunger, poverty, homelessness, racism. The list of maladies which afflicts us seems never-ending.
Yet, Chanukah is all about hope. The flames on the candles remind us that all it takes is one spark to light a flame: a flame that leads to justice, a flame that leads to healing and wholeness. One flame in the darkness can bring great light, great warmth to a very dark place: one spark of righteous deeds can inspire others to do the same.
This Chanukah, this Festival of Lights, as we kindle our Chanukah candles, I hope that we can dedicate ourselves anew to bringing justice, hope and light to our broken world.
Let each of us be that spark or flame that ignites others to join in repairing our world: “ani v’atah n’shaneh et ha’olam” – together, you and I can change the world.
And we’ll work together to keep the flame alive, as Peter, Paul and Mary sing: “Don’t Let the Light Go Out”