The Message of Hanukkah: Refuse to be Satisfied

This year, my clergy partner Cantor Dara Rosenblatt teamed up to send a Hanukkah video message to our Temple Beth-El family, featuring a reflection I wrote and an original(!) melody CDSR composed.

You can watch the video here.

5781 Hanukkah Message

Please feel free to share with others who might find it meaningful; let’s increase the light together!

Here is the text of my message:

At its core, Hanukkah commemorates a revolution: in 166 CE, a band of Jewish rebels rose up against a foreign ruler who had banned Jewish practice and transformed our Temple into a pagan shrine.By any estimation, the rebellion should have failed. As we recount in the special prayer for Hanukkah “Al ha-nissim,” the Maccabean revolt pitted the weak against the mighty, the few against the many, scholars against soldiers.And yet the Maccabees saw their world as it was and, with perhaps an equal measure of courage and hutzpah, they refused to accept it as inevitable. Instead, regardless of the odds, they insisted on fighting for what they imagined could be.

It is no coincidence that Hanukkah falls during the darkest time of year, when the days are shortest and the nights are longest. We light candles precisely in this season as a reminder that the darkness in our world, no matter how present, prevalent, and persistent it may be, is not unavoidable or unassailable. We mustn’t be content with the darkness of our world as it is. We can, and must, add light. We may not totally or permanently illuminate the night. But unless we act, unless we light those candles, we guarantee the persistence of the dark. As Edmund Burke is remembered to have said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.”

Hanukkah, in this sense, calls upon us to notice the ways in which our lives as they are, and the world as it is, are not what we wish they were, and challenges us to consider: are we being complacent, tacitly accepting things as they are? Or will we refuse to be satisfied with the status quo, and agitate for change, no matter the obstacles, regardless of the odds? As my teacher, Rabbi Sharon Brous, teaches, on Hanukkah we honor the sacred hunger for light in a world that bleeds with human suffering, injustice, loneliness and so much darkness. We reject the darkness that is, and agitate for the light that might yet be.

Maybe this is why tradition has us recite Psalm 30 during Hanukkah. The psalmist writes: I call to You, Infinite God; and I appeal to my Lord: Hear, Infinite God, and have mercy on me; Infinite God, be my help!” In an equal measure of courage and hutzpah, the psalmist calls God out and demands change.

Perhaps the Maccabees themselves were inspired by the psalmist’s refusal to accept things as they were. Similarly, in reciting these words during Hanukkah, we too are urged to be dissatisfied; we too are called to agitate for change.As I wrote recently in my new prayer for our country, “Where we see degradation or persecution, move us to march. Where we see tyranny, rally us to resist. And when we feel despair, grant us the audacity to hope…Ready us to join together in that spirit, so that together we may make “justice well up like water, and righteousness like an unfailing stream” (Amos 5:24), and speedily bring about the day when “nation will not take up sword against nation, and they will never again know war” (Isaiah 2:4).”

Hanukkah is not only a festival of lights, a season for appreciating miracles ancient and modern, large and small. More importantly, it is a time to take stock of the state of our lives and our world, to refuse to accept things as they are, and to summon the courage and the hutzpah to fight for what could be.

Hag urim same’ah! May you and yours have a happy, healthy, and hutzpadik festival of lights!

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