Ritual as the Expression of Wonder
This Dvar Torah was written by Rabbi Dr. Daniel Gordis, named by the Jerusalem Post as one of the fifty most influential Jews in the world. He lives in Israel and is Senior Vice President and Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem.
Many Jews see Hanukkah as the Jewish Christmas, or the childish celebration of the miracle they're not even convinced took place.
But here, too, the tradition seeks not mechanical compliance, but marvel, awe, and wonder at the "miracle" of Jewish history and survival.
... if the point of the Hanukkah menorah were to reenact the miracle of the oil, we should begin with eight candles and countdown to one.
Why begin with one and increase to eight?
What is the significance of the second blessing recited up on the lighting of the candles: "Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who performed miracles for our ancestors in days of old and in our age as well"?
If we think about them carefully, the blessing and the details of the ritual suggested an answer.
Hanukkah is about miracles that are still ongoing, symbolized by a growing, not a diminishing, number of candles.
Hanukkah is about not only the victory of the Jews in their battle against the Greeks, but about the victory of the Jewish people in their battle to survive.
Hanukkah is about the miracle of Jewish existence. A small, sometimes virtually powerless people that was persecuted by ancient Greeks and Romans, medieval Christendom and Islam, and modern Nazism still survives.
Many of the people who persecuted the Jews, though more numerous and more powerful than we were, are now gone. And we are here, to tell our story, to pass on our tradition.
The menorah's lights are small and fragile, but they grow in number as the holiday progresses. The light shines brighter, and doesn't dim.
How are we to explain this survival? Why are we still here? Is it a matter of how we have lived? God's intervention in history? Will contemporary Jewish Life ensure that Jews will still be lighting the menorah, contemplating the wonder of Jewish survival, several generations from now?
Does it matter if we don't survive? Why?
Hanukkah is not a Jewish Christmas.
Hanukkah is about the wonder and awe of Jewish survival.
A Kavannah for Lighting the Chanukkiyah:
Ask yourself, discuss with friends, and explore with children:
Does Jewish existence matter? Why? What do we stand for?
Would the world to be missing anything if we Jews were gone?