by Simon Jacobson
Editor’s note: This article was written for Chanukah 2000
As we stand on the verge of the inauguration of a new President, following a strange and unprecedented election, it occurred to me that the very founding of this country and the perpetuity of this nation in the face of such challenges is based on a theme celebrated by Jews every year at this time. What does Chanukah have to do with the founding of America?
The festival of Chanukah commemorates the victory that occurred over 2000 years ago when a small band of Jews, in the name of freedom from oppression and freedom of religion, battled the largest army in the world and were victorious.
In 1789, just 212 years ago a group of revolutionaries, in opposition to the great world powers of that time, wrote the Bill of Rights in order to safeguard the basic individual freedoms of Americans – freedom of religion, speech and press. Religious persecution was the impetus for many to leave the shores of Europe for the New World so it is not surprising that the first amendment stressed the importance of freedom of religion. The Founding Fathers understood this to be central to all other liberties as it embodies the freedom to pursue your own belief system, your personal way of finding transcendence.
The message of Chanukah is as relevant today as it was two millenniums and two centuries ago. Every year we celebrate the power of freedom over oppression with the kindling of the Menorah, symbolizing the victory of light over darkness. Chanukah teaches us four lessons about freedom.
As the sun sets on December 21st, the first night of Chanukah, people around the world will light a candle. And for the next seven nights, they will add a flame, until a total of eight flames illuminate the night. Lit at sundown, the Menorah reminds us that the way to eliminate darkness – to rid the world of selfishness, negativity, hatred and greed – is to kindle the lights of knowledge, generosity, faith and love.
The Menorah is placed in the window of one’s home or in a public place so that the light shines out into the street. This public display represents our responsibility to bring the light of freedom, morality and spirituality not only into our own homes, but also into the lives of others and into the world.
On a more personal level, a flame represents the soul of a person, the Godliness that is inherent in each of us. Every person has an individual contribution to make, a unique way of illuminating the world. Chanukah celebrates the power of the soul reminding us that although there are 6 billion people in the world and many forces that de-personalize our lives, each flame, each soul, brings a special and distinctive light into the world
The eight flames of the Menorah tell a unique story. 2200 years ago in Jerusalem, when the Jewish soldiers entered the Temple that had been desecrated by their enemies, they found only a small cruse of olive oil to light the Temple Menorah. The oil that was sufficient to last for only one day miraculously lasted for eight. The number eight mystically represents transcendence and infinity, one beyond the number seven which represents the natural cycle. There is a natural limit to all human endeavors, to all human knowledge, but Chanukah introduces the eighth dimension, the power of transcendence that enables us to go beyond our natural limitations and transform darkness into light.
The festival of Chanukah calls us all to revolution, a revolution of light fought over centuries by all people seeking true freedom. The Festival entreats us to reclaim our most basic freedom, the freedom to rise above our subjective, limited perspective and reach for the above and beyond. As Americans and as citizens of the world, it is our duty and privilege to add to the forces of light both at home and abroad in a steadily growing measure.
Reprinted from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, December 2000