From the Pulpit: Identifying light when surrounded by darkness

By Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg, Temple Israel

Here we are nine months into the pandemic. Last April, when we were desperately regrouping around Passover, we were sure that by the time Chanukah rolled around things would be back to normal-ish. Even as we continue to mark another Jewish holiday without the social contact that we crave, it is essential that we still strive to celebrate the themes of our favourite winter festival. Now more than ever!

HOPE: The challenges facing our society seem insurmountable. We are struggling to contain COVID-19. The details of the treatment to follow seem equally confounding. Where to begin? We stand tall like the Maccabees, honouring the strength that we carry within as we look ahead with hope. We have overcome difficult trials before and we will do so again. The Maccabees were a small force, yet they strategically and faithfully rebelled against the daunting armies. They would be victorious. There was no other way.

INCLUSION: True, we feel quite disconnected – from our loved ones, from the hobbies we enjoy, from our sanctuaries. In recent months we have been awed by our abilities to connect with one another virtually and creatively. Unfortunately, we’ve also noted the racism and targeted hate that is manifest. We counter with an alternative vision that speaks to inclusion and diversity. In ancient days, our brethren were pressured to assimilate to Greek culture. Instead, they held their beliefs firms, their lights could not be dimmed. Nor can ours in this bizarre time.

LIGHT: It is no accident that many cultures have festivals in winter when our spirits are lower. All the more so this year, as we crave the light. We have become masters at spreading this essential glow. Each night we kindle another flame, reminding ourselves that brightness is contagious (in a good way!). From household to household, the magical menorah grounds us in creating holiness. We are all partners in this journey.

Our Chanukah celebrations will be smaller this year, but I pray that they are more brilliant than ever before. Rather than succumbing to the pressures around us, we will do our share to overcome the struggles before us. We join hands metaphorically, standing as one even as we feel apart. In this dark season, we respond and cherish the light. And of course, we also eat latkes and spin dreidels and share the holiday spirit with our friends and family – even as we’ve all perfected our Zoom connections!