For more than twenty centuries Hanukkah has celebrated the triumph of purpose and hope over fear and despair. In these troubled times, times of economic uncertainty and expanding security threats, maintaining that ancient perspective is more important than ever.
From the Maccabees’ decision to fight on the Sabbath, to a rabbinic Judaism that even the Sages themselves admitted would have been in many ways unrecognizable to Moses, we have a rich tradition of responding to the biggest challenges we face with real faith, not only in the past, but in the future as well. That tradition continued from Maimonides whose philosophical works were initially scorned, to the first followers of the Ba’al Shem Tov who were branded as heretics, to the early Zionists who dared to believe that Jews could build a state of our own.
All responded to the need of the moment rather than bemoan an imagined inability to respond to the challenges they faced or how the moment in which they lived would require a departure from that which had been. Each reconnected to a larger sense of purpose, nurtured hope, and discovered real success when things looked rather hopeless for the Jewish people or the world.
Each of the people above took chances by departing from the past thought or practice, not as a betrayal of the past, but as a fulfillment of its deepest values. And in each case, they also created a future which kept the past alive. Hanukkah reconnects each of us to that tradition of scared heresies, fueled by hope, which drive out the fear and despair that can overtake us in difficult times.
The Talmud (BT Sot. 31a) teaches that “one who acts from love is greater than one who acts from fear.” So we need to allow our love of what could be to be greater than our fear of what is. We need to allow that kind of love to fill our homes and our hearts as we light the Hanukkah candles, especially this year.
Getting past our fears is never easy, especially in difficult times.
The best responses to tough times typically require the kind of imagination which fear – especially fear about our own vulnerabilities – constrains. It may be the vulnerability we experience in tough economic times, the vulnerability we experience when enemies of the Jewish people loom large, or the vulnerability we experience when trying to maintain relationships with friends and family whose actions have hurt us.
In each case, when we focus more on what we have than on what we have lost, on the strength we possess, and on the love which still binds us to those with whom we may deeply disagree, new solutions to our problems emerge. That’s what sacred heresies are – they are the previously unimagined ways in which we can more effectively respond to the challenges we currently confront.
And from Judah Maccabee to Theodore Herzl, we have real examples of being able to see unimagined possibilities when one loves who they are more than they fear who they are not or the enemy they face. And when we are that in touch with our hopes for the future and the love of those whom we hope will share it, we find the strength in ourselves and in those sacred heresies which assure the future of our families, our people, and our world.
We, as individuals, as communities and as a people, need to give ourselves the permission that our heroes from the past allowed themselves. When we do, we will discover the inner strength to accomplish for ourselves and for others, as much as they did. Like a small army, a few lone teachers, or a little jar of oil, it actually doesn’t take much to help make big things happen.
This Hanukkah we should declare a moratorium on all projections of doom for the Jewish people. Instead we should ask ourselves what challenges we are personally willing to help address. We should ask ourselves what we would like to make happen in the coming year. Forget all of the “good” reasons we can’t. Instead we just locate the desire and whatever we have within ourselves to begin moving in that direction. Who knows? In a century or two we might appear on some list like the one above, as people who changed the world for better by replacing fear with lives of purpose and hope.
And don’t forget to look on Windows and Doors every day, beginning Sunday, for your W and D Hanukkah presents – one for each candle of the holiday. Every day of Hanukkah will bring a new story to share, accompanied by a few questions to stimulate your soul and help you to enjoy this wonderful holiday.
Wishing that the Festival of Lights bring you joy, purpose, meaning and hope!