The Darkest Days of the Year

Monday, December 15, 2014
Posted by: Rabbi Jill Levy

December is literally the darkest month of the year, with sunset starting just after 5:00PM each day.  The celebration of Hanukkah, the festival of lights, which begins on December 16, 2014 stands in sharp contrast to the darkness of our winter months.  

Hanukkah itself is not mentioned anywhere in the Torah so the earliest accounts of its celebration comes from the Talmud. The Talmud even asks Mai Hanukkah, or what is Hanukkah?  The answer is “…Eight days of celebration on which mourning and fasting are prohibited. Because when the Hellenists entered the sanctuary, they defiled all the oil that was found there. When the Maccabees triumphed, they looked for oil to light the Eternal Flame, and only found one container with the seal of the high priest intact. The vial contained enough oil for only one day, but a miracle occurred, and they were able to keep it lit for eight days from that container...” (Shabbat 21b).

According to the Talmud, Hanukkah is a festive celebration which commemorates the rededication of the Temple and involved a miracle with light. It is for this reason that we light candles on each night of the holiday. The Talmud further elaborates by telling us how we light candles. There are two opinions. The first is that of Shammai, who says that we should light eight on the first night and subsequently take one away each night.  However, Hillel teaches we are to start with one light and add an additional candle each night, as it is our custom to increase in matters of sanctity. (Shabbat 21b) This is our practice.  

In essence, Shammai’s claim is that although we once celebrated this great miracle, the light of the miracle diminishes over time. Hillel, on the other hand, makes a completely different statement. His claim is that the miracle of Hanukkah subsequently increases the amount of light that is brought into the world.  All we need is a small glimmer of one candle to catch on and light the next, which lights the next, and suddenly, there is dramatic brightness against the backdrop of dark.

We light candles at a very dark time of the year with the belief that one tiny spark of light, hope, or positivity can ultimately illuminate a dark world.

This year we have experienced difficult times. The crisis in Israel that began this summer, the increase in anti-Semitism that we have seen and experienced, the loss of friends, family members,  and community leaders, and more.  Hanukkah sits at the cusp when the weeks slowly become brighter. The real miracle of Hanukkah is not that we had more light than we thought once upon a time. The gift of this holiday is that we have the opportunity to transform the world starting with very little. It just takes that one small step of bringing a small flame of hope or joy into the world that can transform even the darkest of nights. 

We have many Hanukkah events happening at the J.  We’d love to have you join us to celebrate.

  • Hanukkah candle lighting in the lobby of the J on December 16-19 and December 22-23 at 5:00 PM
  • Mishpacha and Me will hold a variety of events including hosting a Hanukkah party for West University Residents
  • Bertha Alyce School at the J will be singing Hanukkah songs at the senior lunch on December 18
  • Bertha Alyce School at the J will host Hanukkah candle lighting December 16-18 and December 22-23 at 5:30 PM in the lobby of the Bertha Alyce School. 
Category: CJLL