Guest post by GTF alumna Rabbi Dr. Paula R. Goldberg
While for this year Hanukkah has already past, there is still much of the holiday season ahead for our friends and neighbors. Hanukkah is a minor festival in the Jewish calendar, but has gained importance and popularity in recent years. It coincides with other important religious celebrations, and allows us to be a part of the larger society. With friends and families celebrating and observing various traditions, I have taken note of the wonderful lessons in the deeper meaning of Hanukkah that can be shared at this season, and throughout the entire year.
Hanukkah commemorates the day on which the ancient temple in Jerusalem, after defilement at the hands of the Greek-Syrians, was repaired, cleansed and once more dedicated to God’s service. The origins of the holiday begin with a military and political victory of the oppressed over their oppressors. However, the rabbis of old refocused the central theme of the holiday to be the story of the small bottle of oil that miraculously burned for eight full days. The central symbol of Hanukkah therefore is Light – a true Feast of Lights – on the menorah with its ever-increasing glow, and in our lives with the many meanings of light.
Light is symbol for wisdom and knowledge. The word Hanukkah itself comes from a Hebrew root which means both dedication and education. Hanukkah is time to kindle new light within ourselves by learning something new – about Judaism, or ourselves, or the world around us. Especially at this dark time of the year, anything we can do to increase the light, literally or symbolically, is important.
Light is a symbol for goodness, righteousness, ethical behavior. Hanukkah is a celebration of the victory of good over evil, of freedom over oppression, of spiritual power over physical might, and of the force of light triumphing over the force of darkness. We use the expression of “shining a light in the darkness” to mean standing up for what we believe in, even when it is an unpopular view, or even in the midst of ignorance, hatred and turmoil. This is a season when all of us, not only Jews, can look to the many lights around us for encouragement.
Finally, in Judaism, as in many other traditions, Light symbolizes the Divine. Whether in a pillar of protecting fire or a voice of flame from a simple bush, Light is the mystical symbol of God’s Presence in our midst.
The season of winter holidays comes at the dark time of the year – near the winter solstice when sunlight is at a minimum, and in the Hebrew lunar calendar, when the moon is waning. This is a time of the dark sun and dark moon. It is not a coincidence that in many traditions, it is a time to light lights, to brighten the world around us with wisdom, goodness and the recognition of God in our midst.
Have a wonderful season of light!
Rabbi Dr. Paula R. Goldberg received the Doctor of Ministry degree from the Graduate Theological Foundation in May, 2013, 20 years after her rabbinical ordination from the Hebrew Union College-JIR in 1993. She was awarded the Rabbi Samuel Cohen Prize in Jewish Studies by the GTF in 2013 in recognition of her outstanding doctoral scholarship. Her D.Min. project was titled, “Original Women’s Passover Haggadah (with notes, leader’s guide and original music).” Rabbi Goldberg recently contributed an essay on this topic to Foundation Theology 2013, an annual monograph of the GTF. Read more about Rabbi Goldberg.