Over 2,000 years ago, a small army of Jews led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers liberated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, but the scene they found on the mount was appallingly depressing. The sacred altar had been polluted and pagan practices had been introduced into Judaism’s holiest site. The liberators immediately set about cleansing the Temple and preparing it for renewed use.
Legend has it that the victors found a small cruse of undefiled oil sufficient for one day’s use in the menorah, the lamp of the Temple. A miracle occurred and the menorah burned for eight days, giving the priests sufficient time to prepare fresh, consecrated oil. Consequently, each year we light the Chanukah menorah for eight days. Every Chanukah we recall the determination of our ancestors. This holiday we can remember American courage as well.
None of us will ever forget the images from 20 years ago, of the courageous New York firefighters raising the flag over the debris of the World Trade Center, or the flag draped over the Pentagon. These powerfully symbolic acts helped serve as a beacon of hope in one of our darkest hours.
And as the menorah’s light strengthens us today just as it did so long ago, those moments when the flag was held high will serve as enduring testaments to our national strength and character for generations to come.
Chanukah reminds us that out of darkness can come light. We must never surrender to the dark night of hopelessness and despair, whether in our national history or in our personal lives. To the contrary, we are strengthened by those who were, are, and will always be ready to kindle the lamps of faith, to raise the banner of hope.
Emerging out of months of shutdowns, lockdowns and deep gloom, we pray that this holiday season allows us to begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, that we find inspiration even when it is darkest. We hope that each of us can find a way to be a spark of goodness and love for others. This Chanukah even more so.
Rabbi Mark Blazer is the rabbi of Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita.