Eight days to celebrate salvation, doughnuts, our ancestors’ acting upon a will to make things better- and their faith that if they did act, things would indeed get better.
Among the many lessons of this holiday of night, light and Jewish might, is a powerful message to help us in our collective march towards ecological sustainability:
Ancient Greece was a proponent of competition, debates, sports, “Greatness” manifest in winning- or better put, in beating others. If I was an ancient Greek, my potential would be contingent upon my ability to outlast yours.
Rabbi Simcha Frischling of Call of the Shofar, argues that Chanuka’s main symbol, the Menorah, is a protest to the Greek model of competition.
On the first night of Chanuka, we light one candle: crowning it with light, allowing it to shine bright.
The second night we light another candle. It too shines bright. And the two candles stand tall next to each other, neither outlasting or outshining the other. Jewish law stipulates, in fact, that if they are not the same height, the ritual is no good.
By the eighth night we have eight candles: all standing tall, all shining light, all burning bright. (What a magical site.)
I contrast the Menorah, or the Chanukiot that we light today, with an Olympic victory podium, which features the winner on top, the silver medalist below the gold, bronze medalist below silver- and everyone else watching from below.
Chanuka teaches us that there is another way, a better way, where I can be great without you being being any less great. Somehow, we can shine next to one another.
And even more than that- we’re told in the Talmud that the eight-candle Menorah is holier than first-night’s one-candle version: The more each of us can reach our fullest potential, the greater we all are.
One of the greatest illusions of today’s economy is that through competition, everybody wins. Lots of people do not win. There are losers within our own borders, and more dramatically (and most conveniently), a long way outside of them.
Capitalism has been referred to as the “least bad economic model” in the world. But Chanuka is a holiday of miracles, and on Chanuka, we don’t have to settle for “the least bad.” On Chanuka, we can believe in a way of life where one person or nation’s enjoyment, does not come at the expense of another person or nation, or at the expense of future generations.
Maybe we actually can create an energy economy where we share the same sunlight or the same wind. Maybe we can encourage goods to be produced in exchange for fair wages, in healthy working conditions. Maybe our success does not have to “leave others in our dust,” when our dust leaves behind environmental dangers we’d never allow our children to face.
We’re allowed to dream on Chanuka, and I bless us that this Chanuka we dream a reality where fulfilling our greatest potential as a world, is a function of everyone fullfilling their greatest potentials as individuals. Happy Dreaming! Happy Hannukah!