Chanuka: From Despair to Wonder

We enter the temple again:
the glimmer of the endless light
is but a mirage in our minds;
despair fills the darkness.
Scattered shards of smashed vessels
mingle with mud and oil and char,
while scorched and withered leaves
flutter through shattered doors.
The eerie silence numbs our senses
as we clear the debris of defilement
laboring mutely, until
the last trace of pillage is purged.
One small cruse of oil,
one day’s kindling, sealed, unscathed,
is brought to light
glinting under ashen rubble.
With pounding hearts and trembling hands,
holding the promise of renewal,
we relight the everlasting lamp:
it is sustained as though by our prayers.
Days pass – the light burns brightly:
as oil diminishes, wonder grows;
the glow reflects the awe,
the hope in our eyes.


The Talmud (B. Shabbat 21b) reports the disagreement between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai concerning the proper way of lighting the chanukiah: Beit Shammai proposed lighting all eight lights on the first night of Chanuka and reducing the number of lights by one each night. Beit Hillel said the opposite: one light the first night, increasing to eight on the final night.
Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser, in his blog (Reb Jeff, The Audacity of the Miracle 26/12/2011) suggests that lighting the Chanuka lights is not just a representation of the literal burning of the Temple Menorah when the Maccabees rededicated it. It is meant to represent something deeper, something more spiritual. He imagines how the people who kindled that first lamp with the remaining cruse of oil might have felt – as the oil lessened, their sense of awe would have grown stronger. They gradually became aware of the miracle which was happening before their eyes. He says, “And so it is in our lives, if we allow our perception of miracles to burn brightly within us.”

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