Hanukkah: A Light Dispelling Darkness

Below is an edited version of a Dvar Torah given by Annette Reij, Chair of CAJE’s Early Childhood Education and Engagement Committee earlier this week at our December CAJE Board Meeting.

Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay

Every morning and every night, I like to read a little about any fallen Israeli soldiers, about who they are and their life story.


On Sunday, I engaged in my usual routine and when I was ready to go to bed, I realized I had missed a few names. I tried to search them on the internet and figure out who I had missed but wasn’t successful.


When I woke up, I was greeted by the harsh reality of who it was that I had missed, but this time it wasn’t through articles, it was through personal chats I was a part of.


Sergeant Eviatar Cohen (z”l) had fallen in battle in Gaza. Sergeant Cohen was the father of Hadas Cohen, one of our Miami B’not Sheirut [representatives from Israel volunteering for service to the Jewish community].


I was overcome with sadness and anger. I just kept thinking about how his daughter, Hadas, 18 years old, had to get on a plane from Miami to Israel to go bury her father.


How is that fair?!? How was I going to be able to give a dvar torah about bringing light into our lives, when it feels like there is so much darkness.


I woke up to seeing photos of Hadas at her father’s funeral and the feelings of sadness overwhelmed me.


But then, I received a beautiful video from a friend whose brother-in-law is in the same unit as Hadas’ father. Last night they light a menorah in the middle of Gaza to commemorate the five men in their unit who had fallen.


I couldn’t help but feel so connected that they were singing the same songs I also sing with my children. They were staring at the same flames that I was staring into.


And then, right after watching that video, I read what Hadas said at her father’s funeral. She said, her father’s death will not be in vain: “Father, we will win. We will return the kidnapped. We will return to Gush Katif. We will get married and have children…”


This wisdom from an 18 year old is what gave me the strength today to speak with you. Please keep Hadas’ words in mind as I share my thoughts on Hanukkah.


When, Rabbi Efrat, asked me to give this dvar torah, I had no idea how I would be able to tie Hanukkah to education, but I was grateful at the opportunity to have to sit and learn a little Torah so I could share something with all of you.


As I learned with one of my rabbis, we discussed something that resonated very strongly with me regarding the word “chinuch,” usually translated as “training” or “education.”


One thing everyone at CAJE is passionate about is chinuch.


The commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shimon ben Yitzhak, France, 12th century) maintains that it also means “inauguration” (Rashi, Bereishit 14:14). There is nothing as important as the inaugural stage.


The inaugural state establishes the precedent from where everything subsequently flows: “Everything follows after the origin” (Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer Ch.42). It is the map indicating the direction in which one is heading.


In the life of a Jew, chinuch is the basic introduction to Judaism for one’s offspring.


Here a Jewish child experiences their induction into what Jewish living is all about.


The lifelong held values and ideals of a Jew – such as good character traits, faith in G-d and pride in the Torah – are stamped upon the precious Jewish soul in their most impressionable developing years.


So how fitting is it that Hanukkah has the same shoresh / root as the word chinuch, which means education or inauguration.


Hanukkah celebrates the rededication (re-inauguration) of the Beit haMikdash / Holy Temple, which had become impure because of actions taken by the Syrian Greeks.


So when we conquered the Greeks and took Jerusalem, the first thing we Jews did was re-dedicate the Beit haMikdash.


When we sought to light the Temple's menorah, we found only a single canister of pure olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks.


Education is about that process of dedication.


Yes, of course, education also has to do with absorbing information and learning skills, but the core of education is that dedication.


In every educational experience, a child needs to feel that sense of being launched into the future. They need to be able to see the path forward and that this process of dedication is the beginning of that launch into the future.


Just as the re-dedication pointed Jews in the direction that they would be living. The dedication to a child’s educational process should be seen as pointing them to where they are heading, revealing who they are.


Our hope as parents and Jewish educators is that a child should rise up and say to themselves: “I am special; I have a special mission and I have special gifts given to me by G!D and the Torah to fulfill that mission.”


That mindset is what launches a child into their future and that’s the secret sauce of Jewish education.


Sergeant Eviatar Cohen, Z”L did precisely this with his daughter Hadas. When Hadas spoke of her father, she didn’t focus on everything she had lost, instead she focused on her clear future and her identity.


That’s precisely what the Greeks wanted to take away from us, and that is precisely the thing that we rededicate ourselves to on Hanukkah.


So my wish for you this Hanukkah is that you go all out, bringing light to the world, reinvigorating your Jewishness, remembering what Hadas said about building Jewish families, and strengthening your Jewish identity.

Shabbat Shalom