Hanukkah Presence

By Rabbi Mark Melamut

Many are the themes of Hanukkah – rededication, miracles and wonders, and light. Whether you’re reading this during or after the eight days of festivities, the themes and reflective questions of the holiday can stick around with us, just as the images and colors of light upon darkness, the gelt savings, and even the oil of the latkes and jelly doughnuts do, long after the holiday has passed. In fact, other than Shabbat and Tu B’shvat, this is our last holiday, until Purim, near the end of March.

I remember back to not too long ago, during a past Hanukkah, when many of you packed into our home for a chanukkat ha’bayit/house dedication and open house. Our open house now generally occurs with a BBQ during Lag B’Omer, but this year will be different. Save the  date: Sunday, May 29 at 6:00PM. This year our open house will be a memorial day BBQ (the 40th day of the omer is marked by the Hebrew letter, “mem”). We’ll be lighting the BBQ then, but now, we are in the season of lighting the lights. The ancient Temple needed to be rededicated after it had been defiled many years ago, and now, Jewish tradition names both us and our homes, as kinds of mini-sanctuaries.

As such, we too can benefit from a tune-up, asking ourselves, our family and  our friends, “Who or what do we want to dedicate or rededicate ourselves to in the year to come?”  Staring at the Hanukkah flames can be captivating. Their colors and radiance invite us, like many Jewish rituals, to celebrate by sitting around, singing, noshing, playing, praying, and gathering either alone in quiet or with a group in conversation. Though the sparkling lights tend to make the rooms of our homes and our hearts brighter, we learn that their basic purpose is to publicize the famous miracles of the season that happened long ago. However, the blessing we say also mentions the miracles of today. We may say the blessing, but what do we mean by its words?  “Who or what in our lives do we call miraculous or wonder-full?”

Though the essence of Hanukkah is light, it is also about presence. When we give gelt or gifts wrapped in shiny paper, send cards or exchange greetings, make a choice between apple sauce or sour cream, or simply make the effort in our lives to light the candles each night, then we can feel grateful for our Hanukkah presence.

Wishing you lots of presence and an enduring season of light and wonder,

Rabbi Mark

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