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The Hanukah Lights and Reclaiming Our Identity

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

Continuing from last week’s article, what was so dangerous about the Greek’s persecution of the Jews? In short, the Greek philosophy sought to “blur the Jews’ image of themselves as G-d’s holy and treasured nation.”[1] Today, as mentioned earlier, modern society seeks to do the same.

The fact that Hanukah and X-mas coincide this year emphasizes the irony that Hanukah, which is supposed to be a celebration of our unique religious and national identity, has become the most secular Jewish holiday. Unfortunately, for many, it is the “Jewish X-mas.” They have a tree; we have a menorah. They get one day of presents; we get eight. Being Jewish is about so much more. And if the Maccabees were willing to sacrifice their lives for Judaism, then we should at least try to understand what exactly they were fighting for.

In the last article she wrote before she died, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, a”h said that she was afraid for the Jewish people. She was not afraid of terrorism or the increasing anti-Semitism:

“What I do fear,” she wrote, “is our own people – yes, our own people who have forgotten who we are, who no longer remember that we Jews stood at Sinai, that we heard the voice of G-d, that we belong to a priestly kingdom, a holy nation, and that everything that befalls us is choreographed by Hashem and is a reflection of our own deeds, our own hands… When will we wake up? When will we don our priestly garments and fulfill our G-d-given destiny and be ‘a light unto all mankind'”?[2]

We are a special nation, not because of the disproportionately large amount of Nobel Prizes we have won despite our small size, but because we were chosen to bring kedusha, or holiness, into the world. We accomplish this by doing the mitzvot, which are opportunities to connect to G-d and bring much-needed light into a dark world.

Chanukah is the time to reclaim our identity as Jews and to uncover our true inner potential. Rabbi Yitzchak Rotenberg, the first Rebbe of the Ger Chasidic dynasty, compares the miracle of the oil jug to the “pintele yid,” which is Yiddish for the Divine spark that exists in every Jewish soul. Just as the jug of oil remained pure and untainted from Greek influence, so too there is a part of our souls that will always remain pure – attached to our heritage and individual missions, and uninfluenced by our external environments.

The Ger Rebbe reminds us that just as it took the Maccabees great effort to find the pure jug of oil in the ransacked Temple, so too it takes great effort to discover our own true potential. But, it is possible.

When the Maccabees lit the Menorah, they restored the Temple to a state of purity and sanctity. In the same way, the Rebbe insists that “no more opportune time exists to relocate [our] inner sanctity than the time of kindling the Chanukah lights which are extremely efficacious in helping us discover our inner potential.”[3]

This year, let’s celebrate the true miracle of Hanukah, the triumph of light over darkness, by tapping into our personal, and national, lights.

Resource Suggestions:

  1. Jewish by Choice (In his down-to-earth and fun style, Rabbi Eli Deutsch discusses the foundations of Jewish belief: God, Free Will, the Soul, Death, Reincarnation, Relationships, and more.)

  2. Partners in Torah (You can learn any Jewish topic of your choice over the phone once a week for free!)

[1] Yalkut Yosef, Introduction on Hanukah, p. 31

[3] Rabbi Yosef Stern, Days of Joy: Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes on Chanukah and Purim, p. 168

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