Rabbi Evan Moffic is the spiritual leader of Congregation Solel in suburban Chicago. He blogs at www.rabbi.me and the Huffington Post. Author of Wisdom for People of All Faiths, his next book What Every Christian Needs to Know about Passover, is available February 2015 from Abingdon Press.
Two thousand years ago a small group of pious Jews proved might does not always make right, and miracles can happen. That group—known as the Maccabees—became part of Jewish tradition, and we celebrate their story every year on the holiday of Hanukkah.
Christians may know about Hanukkah simply by its proximity to Christmas. It’s the other big December holiday with lights and presents. Yet, Hanukkah contains deep spiritual messages, and ones meaningful not only for Jews.
As a rabbi who writes about Jewish wisdom for Christians, I have seen the ways these messages can resonate and enrich our experience of faith, holidays and one another. Here are three of them:
1. The Home is Sacred
In Christianity, the church is usually the center of one’s spiritual practice. In Judaism it is the home. The home is where holidays are celebrated, values taught and relationships deepened. Hanukkah exemplifies this truth. We light candles at home and put those lit candles in the window. Those candles symbolize shalom bait, the Hebrew expression for “Peace in the Home.”
Why is the home so important? Celebrating a holiday at home can make the encounter with God more intimate. People are more at ease with one another. We open ourselves up more.
Both Jews and Christians believed God created the world as a home for humanity. We model God by inviting others in our own home. And when we invite others, we invite them into a deeper side of ourselves. We are not simply chatting at a restaurant or a church function. We are sitting around a table like family.
2. Hope Always Wins
Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday during which we light an additional candle each night. By the eighth night, all eight candles (plus the center candle used to light all the others) are lit.
This method of lighting more candles each night, however, was not always customary. The Talmud (an ancient book of Jewish laws and wisdom written around 200 C.E. ) records a debate between two great rabbis.
One said we should light all eight candles on the first night of Hanukkah. Then we should subtract a candle each night until the eighth night, when we extinguish the last one.
He said this order represents the greatness of the past and the bleakness of the future. He was writing at a time when Jews no longer lived in their homeland and were ruled by the Romans. He pined for the “good ol’ days” when life was easier and the people felt more free.
The other rabbi, however, said we needed to light an additional candle each night. He acknowledged the greatness of the past and seeming despair of the present. Yet, he said, we can never give up hope. We follow this rabbi’s method.
3. Light Your Candle
Like Christmas, Hanukkah happens during the darkest time of the year. The days are short and the nights are long. Yet, we do not simply accept the darkness. We sing. We celebrate. We light candles.
So often faith is seen as lament, despair, and frustration with the world as it is. Yet, Hanukkah reminds us, as Eleanor Roosevelt once put it, that “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
During this Hanukkah and Christmas, as Jews and Christians, may each of us find a way to light a candle and bring our light into the world.
You can find a way to bring light into the world on each of Hanukkah’s eight nights with Rabbi Moffic’s uplifting devotions.