by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
A major aspect of the Hanukkah story is the message about identity – who was willing and ready to go with the flow of the surrounding culture and who was willing to fight in order to retain a Jewish identity and all that went with it. Hanukkah sends an enduring message about not assimilating.
So many are the ways we can become assimilated into the mainstream culture! Some of them are indeed related to religious identity – being willing to maintain Shabbat on a weekly basis, even just a little bit, for example, requires dedication and determination, week after week. But there are other kinds of assimilation as well. A big one that comes to mind is regarding material goods. We live in a society that idolizes material wealth. The lights of the hanukkiah can be a reminder to hold onto our values and fight for them as though our lives depended on them, and when we think about climate change and the degradation of the environment, even if our life doesn't depend on what we do, the lives of our children and grandchildren just might.
Hanukkah Day 1 – Dispelling Fear and Finding Courage
Hanukkah Day 2 – Acknowledging Greed and Encouraging Generosity
Hanukkah Day 3 – Eviscerating Guilt by Responding with Action
Hanukkah Day 4 – Diminishing Despair and Growing Trust and Faith
Hanukkah Day 5 – Understanding Anger and Cultivating Compassion, Contentment, and Joy
Hanukkah Day 6 – Resisting Jealousy and Strengthening Gratitude
I often think that the hardest of Asseret HaDibrot – the Ten Utterances, or Ten Commandments – to fulfill is to not covet. I suspect that you, like me, know you will never murder anyone, but you may also be like me in another way, for I know that I often covet, I am on occasion jealous; sometimes I just wish had something someone else has.
Refusing to become assimilated to materialism means resisting jealousy and desire for material goods. But I find that often (though not always) what I covet it isn't a phone or a car or a piece of clothing. It is more likely a gift, either innate or earned – physical strength, courage, knowledge, patience, the ability to let things roll off one's back, and so on. I wish I had the fortitude and strength I see in others that would allow me to live closer to the Earth and do more than I do for my family and my friends and our planet.
So I gaze at the lights on this sixth night of Hanukkah and I pray, for all of us, "Holy One, may it be Your will to place us on the side of light." (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 17a) May we feel gratitude and not jealousy. May we understand how much more we have than so many others. May we count our blessings every day. May we become aware of and acknowledge the many gifts we hold within us and we receive every day. May light fill our hearts and our minds and our souls, and drive out the darkness.
Chag Urim Sameach – Happy Hanukkah!