While I agree with Rabbis Waxman and Stern about the dangers of focusing too much on gifts, there is a positive aspect to Hanukkah that the comes from having become the Jewish-American antidote to Christmas cheer.
I also met with parents this past Sunday. Some were ambivalent about making a big to-do about Hanukkah, afraid that decorating the house, for example, was just a misplaced expression of Christmas envy. They were relieved when I let them know that decorations are really part of the mitzvah of Hanukkah, which is to publicize “the miracle.”
What exactly that miracle was is subject to some disagreement: Was it that one cruse of oil miraculously lasted eight days (as the Talmud recounts) or was it the fact that the small, outnumbered and out armed Jewish guerrillas won against the well established Seleucid army (as the prayer book recounts)? Is the Talmud a metaphor or a history lesson? Perhaps it is both in a way.
The word “Hanukkah” means dedication. For me, it refers not only to the rededication of the repaired and purified Temple, but the Jews’ dedication to their ancestral traditions, a dedication repeated throughout history. And that is the real miracle, and meaning, of this holiday.
It is a meaning we are to publicize, according to tradition, by placing our menorahs in our windows. (We can use an electric menorah for this purpose in order not to burn the curtains and instead place our candle or oil-burning menorahs in a safer location.) Today, we can also publicize the miracle of Hanukkah with flags and signs, blinking menorahs, and window decorations that announce we are proud to be Jewish at this time of year.
As I shared with my families, the real test, though, is how dedicated we remain to living our Jewish identity proudly and actively throughout the rest of the year. Perhaps the real miracle of Hanukkah can only be realized when we translate some of the excitement we feel about Hanukkah time to the rest of the Jewish year, such as for the next few holidays like Tu B’Shevat and Purim.
–Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman