Hanukkah always falls around the winter solstice, when the days are at their shortest, and darkest. Not only that, but it always begins on the night of the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which is when the moon is in its final stages of waning. It’s not an accident that these dark days, when the sun and moon provide the least light from the heavens, is when we observe a festival of lights.
These are dark days for our people. Even as we mourn our losses, our siblings in Israel continue to fight for the return of the captured, held in dark tunnels under Gaza, and for the safety of their entire nation from an enemy bent on bringing destruction even unto its last breath. Meanwhile, a darkness of falsehood and hate moves unhindered through the physical world and the world of information, threatening the reputation and the safety of Jews anywhere and everywhere.
Nevertheless, Hanukkah reminds us that when it is most dark is when light is about to be seen. The Maccabees struggled despite the knowledge that the forces they fought in the land of Israel were backed by the armies of countries and empires. They lit a small light of hope, not knowing how long it would last, and how far its glow would reach.
We look ahead from this holiday season in hope of new light. We must not merely wait passively for the new light to dawn. Our tradition calls upon us to cast our own light, starting with a Shamash and one candle, and somehow manage to grow that light each night. Let the glow of our candles light the way to victory, on the field of battle and in the realm of ideas, so that the light of truth shines forth from Jerusalem to the whole world.
Joshua Heller is the senior rabbi at Congregation B’nai Torah.