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May our Collective Lights Push Back the Darkness

12/07/2023 01:29:47 PM


Rabbi Micah Peltz

Tonight begins the holiday of Hanukkah.  Last Sunday, at our Sisterhood’s Torah Fund Brunch, Rabbi Joel Seltzer referenced a halakhah of Hanukkah that caught my attention. He pointed out that normally we put our hanukkiyot , our Hanukkah menorahs, in our windows for pirsumei nisa, to publicize the miracle of Hanukkah. This is one of the key concepts of Hanukkah, and it is the reason behind the many large hanukkiyot, like the one we have in front of our building, that you will see around the community. There is, however, an exception to pirsumei nisa. According to the Talmud, if it is a “time of danger, then it is enough to place your hanukkiah on a table in your home.” What is a time of danger? According to Rashi and Tosafot, two medieval commentaries, this goes back to Babylonia. Remember that much of the Talmud was composed in Babylonia, where Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion. Zoroastrians also had a fire holiday around this time of year. During this holiday, they were only allowed to light lamps in their temples and nowhere else. Jews worried that Persians of that time would see the Hanukkah lights in their homes as a violation of their holiday, and this would lead persecutions. That’s the danger that led to putting their hanukkiyot on tables inside of their homes, instead of in doorways or in front of windows. This exception to pirsumei nisa gets repeated in our sources throughout the centuries, testifying to the consistent threat of antisemitism, in its various forms, that our people have endured over the generations. This all begs the question:  should this exception be invoked this year? We are living at a time of heightened antisemitism in our community, our country, and our world. The outright ignorance and lack of moral clarity on display from presidents and faculty of elite colleges, as well as others who should know better, is frightening. It has all of us wondering how we got to this place, and how we can work to fix it. One of the ways we do this is by standing strong and proud as a Jewish community. This has been one of the most heartening things in our post-October 7 world. By and large the Jewish people, here and in Israel, have stood together in the face of Hamas terrorism, international ignorance, and outright antisemitism. Thank God, we are no longer the vulnerable people who need to hide their hanukkiyot inside their homes. Instead, we can and should proudly display our hanukkiyot in our windows, in front of our synagogue, and in our community. This is year doing the mitzvah of pirsumei nisa, of lighting our hanukkiyot for all to see, is more than fulfilling a religious obligation. It a powerful expression of solidarity with our fellows Jews in Israel and around the world. And today we can publicize the miracle Hanukkah even farther than the eye can see. The Conservative Movement has launched a hashtag campaign to amplify our pride and our message.  Just post a picture on social media lighting your hanukkiah, eating latkes or sufganiyot, playing dreidel, or doing anything Hanukkah-related with the hashtag #BeAMaccabee. It is another important way we can show the world that we stand together as a Jewish people this HanukkahAdditionally, I encourage you to visit our website for other Hanukkah resources. You will find the Hanukkah blessings, and a really awesome video refresher for how to light the Hanukkiah. Additionally, there are kavannot, reflections, that can add meaning to your lighting this year. Our ancient texts remind us that this is not the first Hanukkah with heightened antisemitism. We are fortunate, however, that unlike our ancestors who had to hide their Hanukkiyot in their homes, we can display them proudly in our windows and in our community. May our collective lights push back the darkness we are experiencing, and inspire us to stand together, and with all of Israel, for goodness, for life, and for peace.



Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784