Here in North America, Hanukkah is a very popular holiday both for adults and children. While it is referred to as The Festival of Lights, because in our hemisphere it comes during the darkest season, or the Holiday of The Miracle of the Oil, which unexpectedly lasted for eight days, neither of these are truly the elements of its essence.
Hanukkah is really the celebration of the first rebellion for religious freedom in history. It does not commemorate a war for political independence but rather a Jewish uprising led by the Maccabees because the Persian Greek rulers were outlawing Jewish religious practice.
The true miracle that Hanukkah reflects is not that a flask of sacred oil survived, but that the Jewish People survived. That miracle continues today.
Despite oppression, tyrants and bigotry, Judaism and the Jewish People not only survive, but thrive. While in the past that may have meant that we had to physically fight for our Jewish rights, today it means that we have to spiritually fight for them. The renewal of open anti-Semitism is dangerous enough, but so is the internal danger presented by assimilation.
The eternal mandate of Hanukkah is not only to remember our past, but to remain steadfast to the values and traditions that are our heritage. We may sing about ancient miracles, but we must not rely on them. Hanukkah means dedication. Our ancestors rededicated the defiled Temple. We celebrate in order to rededicate ourselves.
HAG URIM SAMEACH. May we bring light into a darkened world.
Jeffrey A. Wohlberg is the retired senior rabbi of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC, and a past president of The Rabbinical Assembly.