By Rabbi Aaron Benson
There would be no miracle of Hanukkah, the eight-day festival which begins this Thursday evening, without there first being darkness.
Hanukkah is meant to be a time of joy. It is not a major holiday, still it is a time to play games, give gifts and enjoy foods fried in oil, reminiscent of the miracle at the heart of the holiday.
In ancient times, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem had been defiled and when the Jews took it back from their oppressors, they found only enough oil to light the sanctuary’s special candelabra, the menorah, for one day. Since the menorah must always be lit, the Jews did so, and miraculously, the oil burned for eight days during which time more oil was procured.
But even more important than the oil, the miracle couldn’t have happened if there hadn’t been darkness at first.
This year, Hanukkah occurs in a time of hatred and war for Israel and the Jewish People. It is a time of suffering for the innocent people of Gaza. It is a time in which Islamophobia has caused violent and deadly attacks on American Muslims; college students in Vermont and a little boy from the same part of Illinois where I grew up. Not to mention all that divides Americans from each other, too.
This is a Hanukkah of much darkness.
But it is only out of darkness that light, that miracles can come.
I am reminded of the final scene from the first season of the HBO series, True Detectives. The two protagonists are discussing the fight against evil, the war between darkness and light. One of the two argues that looking in the night sky, there is far more darkness than the tiny points of light we see, “it appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory.” The other objects, saying, “You’re looking at it wrong, the sky thing … once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.”
If good people, Jews and non-Jews, can resist the vast darkness that surrounds us and bravely light one little light, we, all of us, will create a miracle. May such a miracle, one that brings understanding and peace, be kindled for us all soon.
The author is the rabbi of North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station.