Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and continues for eight days. Because its date depends on the lunar rather than the solar calendar, in some years, Chanukah overlaps with Thanksgiving while on others it coincides with Christmas. This year, the fifth day of Chanukah lines up with the anniversary of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
In a special prayer we say each day of Chanukah we thank God for handing victory to a small, dedicated group who went to battle against the mightiest empire of the day. As part of that battle, they also faced internal opposition from the Hellenists, who were Jews who succumbed to the appeal of Greek culture. These Hellenistic Jews wanted their faithful brethren also to abandon God.
An unusual rule surrounds the lights of Chanukah that are kindled each of the eight nights of the holiday. Before you can light the flames, there must already be light in the room. The Chanukah lights cannot be used for utilitarian purposes. The menorah beckons us to have vision, not to limit ourselves to what is within our sight. Before we can tap into the miracle of oil that burned beyond its physical ability, we have to prepare the room.
Winston Churchill recognized the tragedy at Pearl Harbor as the turning point in efforts to beat back a Nazi regime that was spreading darkness and evil across Europe. Like so many of their generation, President George H.W. Bush and Senator Bob Dole, who came to honor him this week, answered the call to defend their country and its ideals. Comrades who did not survive the war were not granted the same opportunity for sterling careers, as well as children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Veterans likely felt the need to be worthy of the blessing of life so many of their peers were not granted.
Whether we think of the Maccabees 2,179 years ago or Americans joining the Allied forces seventy-seven years ago, war takes a devastating toll. Later generations reap the rewards of victory, frequently not only taking those rewards for granted but often despising them. This year Chanukah and December 7th overlap and our focus has been drawn by the funeral of President Bush to the ‘Greatest Generation’. Let us resolve to provide whatever light we can in what often seems like a dark world, as we keep in mind the greater vision and ask God to redeem us once again.