Sunday late afternoon, the gathering dusk taking into its arms the it the last moments of the eighth day of Hanukkah, I found myself sitting in a spacious room in Denver’s Mizel Museum, surrounded by a riot of Jewish artifacts, old photographs, the light of a ner tamid winking at me from above an enormous, colorful ark. It was the end of Hanukkah, the end of a full weekend. And all of us, you may recall, were still reeling from the unspeakable news out of Newtown, Connecticut.
I was fortunate that afternoon to have found my way to a Jewish meditation group practice, 90 minutes of a little learning and a healthy helping of silence. It was just what I needed. What can we say in the face of such tragedy? God wept with us that weekend.
Our teacher, Rabbi Stephen Booth-Nadav, set up his Hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah), filled it with candles, and without blessing—we had already blessed the eighth night lights the previous evening—lit them all. “For eight days we have received the gift of this miraculous light,” he began. “But now the Hanukkah lights are going out, and we must consider how we will carry that light forward, out into the world.” He instructed us to meditate, as we watched the candles burn down, fading with the day itself, upon how we might now become sources of light ourselves, living Hanukkiyot, walking through the world spreading light to those who need it, particularly the grieving parents, schoolchildren, and citizens of Newtown.
Rabbi Booth-Nadav spoke about the single small jar of pure oil the Maccabees found in the defiled temple, how it looked like it would only burn for a single day, but instead it kept the Temple lamps burning for eight days, long enough for more oil to be made. “What if each one of us had eight times as much potential, eight times as much energy and light, than we realize?”
In the aftermath of tragedy, there is sometimes little to say, but much to do. We must work to ensure that the hurting, lonely, and scared among us get the attention and care they need before it’s too late. We should take a serious look at the cost to our society of allowing free access to automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.
The problems are immense, and our light seems so small. But we know the miracle of Hanukkah: the victory of the weak over the strong and the few over the many. We are eight times more powerful than we realize. “Not by might and not by power but by spirit,” the prophet proclaimed, shall we realize our dreams of a just and peaceful society.
As the memory of the candles’ warm glow recedes in the cold glare of January, a new secular year, let us recall our strength, put the light of Hanukkah dedication to work in our own world.
I will keep you all apprised of my own efforts to be the Hanukkah lights in 2013, and I hope you will do the same. Perhaps soon there will be congregational actions to report. Try one, or more, of the following actions, and be the light in our world:
Buy only fair trade and/or organic chocolate and coffee to minimize the chance that you are consuming the fruits of slave labor.
Purchase as much food as possible locally, and find out as much as you can about the production chain of the meat, eggs, milk, and produce you buy.
Pay a visit to your grocery store manager to share your concerns about slave labor in your food. Click here for a sample letter to leave behind.
Learn more about the problem of slavery and human trafficking here.
Join one of the many organizations working toward, or sign on to a petition like this one advocating for, sensible gun control laws. Call or write to President Obama and your federal and state representatives to tell them how you feel.
Join with the National Alliance for Mental Illness (nami.org) to advocate for better funding for public mental health care, and for access to care for all who are suffering mental illness.
At the start of 2013, as we emerge from the stunned silence of tragedy and injustice, may our actions speak louder than any words, and may our dedication to healing and justice in our world carry our efforts farther than we could.
gam zeh ya’avor,