Have you ever wondered there are so many lights celebrations in the winter? You’re not alone. It is not even a new question. In fact, nearly 1500 years ago the Talmud suggested that humans are hard-wired with a spiritual need for light at this time of year. The sages understood that the increasing amount of darkness during waking hours affected Primal Human and subsequently all of humanity in a common way. We crave light in the face of darkness. In the presence of gloom our best response is celebration to create the light we crave. That Talmudic tradition teaches just that: 8 days prior to and following the winter solstice ancient humanity celebrated with feasting and light.
We all know the huge role of light in the various Hanukah stories and sources. To this day it is the Festival of Lights. It is on one level the light of the fires the Maccabees lit in the newly redeemed and re-sanctified Jerusalem Temple. Their lights were fires of political and military celebration, the fires of rekindled national independence, and the fires of self-determination. The lights of the Maccabees burned for the political rights of our ancient ancestors. It was the right of the minority few to exist with authenticity in the context of the radically different majority.
I can reduce that value to two words: human dignity. At its core, the special light Judaism offers the world at this season is the absolute value and radical importance of the dignity of each and every human being. If this is a minority message so be it; it is still a critically important message that we can share with our friends and neighbors. We can be the light. We can be the light for those who are especially feeling fearful.
We can be the light for our LGBTQ+ family, friends, and neighbors and protect their dignity in school, at work, and in our larger society; We can be the light for our neighbors who are Dreamers, young Americans from Latin families with dubious immigration status, enrolled in higher education who are fearful for their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and friends by hearing their stories firsthand and knowing their concerns by having witnessed their parents’ tears;
We can be the light for our Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and other neighbors who are targets for hatred because they come from non-Christian traditions, by remembering our commitment to “Never Again” in acts of solidarity and support;
We can be the light for those targeted by hatred and bigotry, no matter who they are. Our special Jewish message of light is all the more vital, all the more potent, when we recall our mission: to be alight among the nations, even in the face of our own fears and concerns.
In the face of darkness and gloom, even the smallest light burns all the more brightly. May we see the efforts of all our lights shining together, affirming most essential of Jewish teachings: that when it comes to human dignity, every light is precious.