A Special Chanukah Message

By Rabbi Levi Welton

Baruch Hashem, in a little less than a month the Jewish community will be celebrating the festival of Chanukah. The most famous aspect of this holiday is the lighting of the Menorah, a tradition dating back 2,162 years and which remains a timeless symbol of hope and resilience. 

In that pivotal moment in history, a small group of Jewish scholars, the Maccabees, rose against oppressive forces that condemned religious freedom, defiled the Holy Temple, and persecuted the Jewish people. Despite being few in number and having a low chance of success, the Maccabees were victorious in their battle for religious liberty, rededicating the Holy Temple and rekindling the Menorah. Chanukah, in Hebrew, translates to ‘rededication,’ and I believe this holiday has life lessons that can resonate with all Americans. As Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson would advise his students, “We must listen carefully to what the candles are saying.”

Firstly, in remembrance of this miracle, we light a menorah with eight branches, unlike the original Temple Menorah with seven branches. This choice signifies the Maccabees’ limited supply of uncontaminated olive oil, which miraculously endured for eight days. The Menorah’s message is clear – no matter what generation we find ourselves in, and no matter how great the darkness is around us, we have the duty and ability to be a shining light of justice, liberty, and freedom. 

This concept aligns with the Seven Laws of Noah, which the Jewish people consider guiding principles for all of humanity. Former President George H.W. Bush, in Public Law No. 102-14, emphasized that these ‘Seven Noahide Laws,’ transmitted through God to Moses on Mount Sinai, are ethical values applicable to everyone, irrespective of religious faith. These principles include belief in one God, reverence for human life, protection of animal life, respect for others’ property, and establishing a just legal system.

Secondly, one might ask, why light only one candle? Why not all eight at one time? Ancient scholars debated such a thing, and today, the practice is to light one candle each night. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that adding a new Chanukah candle every night teaches us that every day we must increase our endeavors to spread light throughout the world.

Lastly, the Menorah serves as a testament to the belief that the Almighty can bestow miracles upon the resolute few who stand for what is right, even when many might say it is wrong. In the words of the eminent American anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Rabbi Welton is currently a United States Air Force Chaplain (Captain) and the Manhattanville College Jewish Chaplain at the Clark Center for Religion and Social Justice. He is also the author of the book, Be Like the Moon.