Lessons from Hanukkah

I’m spiritually indebted to Jewish traditions, such as Hanukkah. This year, Hanukkah begins at sunset next Sunday, Dec. 22, and runs until Dec. 30.

The word “Hanukkah” comes from the Hebrew verb meaning “to dedicate” and generally is translated as an eight-day festival of lights. Specifically, it refers to the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem at the end of the Maccabean Revolt, which was a war between Jews and forces from the Seleucid Empire.

There seem to be different versions of what Hanukkah is all about, and all of them have to do with miracles. I will only mention one. The Talmud teaches that there was a small jar with enough oil to light one candle in the Temple’s menorah for one night. Instead, the oil lasted eight nights — and this was the miracle.

These days, the menorah is lit at sunset each night of Hanukkah. Candles are added from right to left, just as Hebrew is read, but they are lit from left to right. Doing so celebrates the new miracle of continued light on each successive night. The blessings that are recited include praise for the One who provides the light and continues to perform miracles.

Giving and receiving gifts is an integral part of celebrating Hanukkah. I was told the gifts do not need to be big or bought — in fact, there is some preference to the gifts being homemade — but they are to be shared with all loved ones. Oftentimes, children and adults play dreidel together. The game uses a four-sided spinning top, which has a Hebrew letter imprinted on each side; together, the four letters are an acronym for the Hebrew words referring to the miracle of the oil.

There are several songs associated with Hanukkah, such as “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” and “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah.”

And, of course, there are certain foods connected with Hanukkah. I’m a fan of latkes (but preferably with very little mincedonion). And some good doughnuts, be they jam-filled or not, are always high on my personal list.

All of us, Jewish or not, could learn much from the celebration of Hanukkah.

Here are some examples. We could all review that to which we are dedicated. Who or what gets my attention, my allegiance, my affection? Am I dedicating all I should to what I should? Or, do I need to realign my commitments with my values?

Here’s another one: How do I define what a miracle is, and what miracles have occurred around me? Maybe they were really big; maybe they were pretty small and certainly not supernatural, but still quite significant. With whom should I share the miracles I’ve witnessed?

Just one more for now: Maybe life works somewhat like the oil in the temple jar. The more we share with others, the more we all benefit.

Wilson is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Follow him on Twitter: @nathandaywilson

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