Rabbinic Intern Jen's Bi-Monthly Message
I am writing this article shortly before the arrival of Chanukah. It is no coincidence that Chanukah occurs during the darkest time of the year. I am reminded of a teaching and a story from the Talmud about the importance of light for this holiday and for this time of year.
Our Sages taught that the basic commandment of Chanukah is to have a light kindled by a person each day of the festival. They went on to say that those who are meticulous about observing this commandment would light a candle for each and every person in the household, and those who are most meticulous about the candle-lighting commandment also would adjust the number of lights daily. In other words, most people would light a single candle for each night of Chanukah while those who were more exacting would light more than one candle each day. Rabbis Hillel and Shammai seem to have been in the category of those who were most meticulous because the Talmud tells a story of their disagreement about how to adjust the number of lights. Rabbi Shammai proposed lighting eight candles on the first day of Chanukah and, on each of the following days, gradually decreasing the number of lights until, on the last day of Chanukah, only one candle is lit. Rabbi Hillel proposed exactly the opposite—lighting one candle on the first day, and on each subsequent day gradually increasing the number of lights until, on the last day of Chanukah, eight candles are lit.
What I find fascinating is not how our current practice might or might not line up with the teaching and the story but rather that the Talmud dedicates quite a lot of space to the discussion of how to light the Chanukah candles, the sole requirement of Chanukah. The rabbis of the Talmud chose to focus on the light, which suggests that the light at Chanukah was important. Just as the Holy Temple was rededicated with light after the darkness of battle, so too can we renew our hope for light (and warmer times) returning after the darkness of winter. Perhaps the rabbis discuss the light at such length because they knew people would need to be reminded to have hope in dark times.
Martin Luther King Jr. is attributed with saying, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” On Friday, January 17, at 7:00 pm, we will have a wonderful opportunity to bring and share our hopeful light in a community-wide interfaith service commemorating the life of Martin Luther King Jr. When I first met members of the Temple Emanu-El community, this service was mentioned repeatedly as a highlight of the year. Remembering King’s legacy in the context of our country’s current polarization feels particularly important and urgent this year. I am grateful to have the opportunity to participate in this service with both the Temple Emanu-El and other faith communities.
In delightful anticipation of when I have the honor of spending time with you, here are the dates in January and February when I will be at Temple Emanu-El:
Shabbat morning service
Martin Luther King Jr. Shabbat
Shabbat evening service with 5th and 6th grades
Shabbat morning service
Shabbat evening service with 2nd–4th grades
Bivracha, with blessings,