Passing the Flame
by Jared Eaton, Simchat Yisrael, West Haven, CT
Like most Jewish children, I loved Hanukkah when I was growing up. It was one of my favorite times of the year. I couldn’t wait for my Dad to get home from work so that we could light the candles, play the dreidel, eat the latkes, and most importantly get the presents! Now that I am an adult with small children of my own, the joy of Hanukkah has been rekindled for me, as I get to relive my own experiences through their eyes.
I enjoy giving my kids gifts as much as I used to enjoy receiving them. And I find it tremendously gratifying to be able to pass on the blessings and songs and traditions that my parents passed on to me.
My one moment of disconnect came the other night when, after lighting the candles, my wife asked my son if he remembered the story of Hanukkah. Dutifully he recited the same story that he had heard a hundred times in storybooks and at shabbat school. “God performed a miracle when he made the oil that was only supposed to last for one day burn for eight whole nights!”
Is that it? Not much of a miracle really. It hardly stacks up to the parting of the Red Sea. This is the story of Hanukkah that I grew up with. It’s the only story of Hanukkah that many Jewish children know about. It wasn’t until I was much older that I found out the whole story of Hanukkah.
The oppression of the wicked king Antiochus. The zeal of the priest Matityahu. The courage of Judah and his Maccabees. The miraculous military victories this small band of Jews won against the most powerful army in the world. In the epic backdrop of that sweeping saga, the miracle of the oil is almost an afterthought, a brief epilogue to end the story on a triumphant note.
The real miracle of Hanukkah was the mighty victory over the Greeks! Why don’t we celebrate that? Why are we focused on the candles?
I find my answer as I read the words of the prophet Isaiah:
It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth. Isaiah 49:6
Israel has had many military victories in her long history. From the conquest of Joshua, to the triumphs of King David, to the miraculous victories of the modern IDF over her enemies, God has never failed to strengthen the sword arm of Israel when we have faith that He is our might.
And yet the sword will never be the symbol of the Jewish people. It is too small a thing for us just to celebrate the military victory because God has not called us to be a nation of warriors. He has called us to be a Kingdom of Priests. Our job is not to make war, it is to make light.
The victory over the Greeks may have been miraculous but even more remarkable was what the Jews did after they won. They laid down their swords and lit the candles. After the devastation of the Greeks, the Jews won the ultimate victory not with swords but with light. They won by not giving into the darkness but by shining their light even brighter, restoring the worship of God to the temple and to Israel.
When darkness threatens to overtake us, Jews have always fought back with light. We respond to hatred and violence by coming together as a community, loving each other more. We respond to anti-Semitism with education and with bridge-building. We respond to our enemies wanting us dead by being more alive than ever, building families and sharing our Judaism with our children.
Every night of Hanukkah, when I light the Shamash candle and then hand it to my son so that he can light the next candle, I understand why the symbol of the Jewish people is not a sword but a menorah. We keep the flame alive. We pass that flame on to our children. And as Messiah Yeshua teaches us, we do not hide that light in our own homes; instead we display our Hanukkah menorahs in our windows so that our light can shine out into the world and fight back the darkness.
We are the light of the world, and by shining our light, we bring the salvation that comes from Messiah Yeshua to the ends of the earth.