02 December 2010

From "Eight Nights: The Joy and Meaning of Hanukkah"

To the Editor:

Re “Hanukkah, Rekindled” (Op-Ed, Dec. 1): Bravely following in the footsteps of all the bubble-bursters over the years who have sought to reduce the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah to a mere “seasonal festival of light in search of a pretext,” Howard Jacobson eloquently makes the tired case.

But those of us who feel inspired yearly, and deeply, by Hanukkah understand that the lack of “grandeur” in the holiday’s observance is precisely its point. As the special prayer we recite on Hanukkah puts it, we thank God for handing “the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few.”

What we celebrate, in other words, is that seeming puniness does not preclude genuine puissance. In the words of the Talmudic rabbis, “a little light pushes away a lot of darkness.”

And so when sensitive, knowledgeable Jews gaze at the tiny flames of their menorah, what they ponder is the subtle but compelling power of the Jewish religious tradition, the Torah.

(Rabbi) Avi Shafran
Director of Public Affairs
Agudath Israel of America
New York, Dec. 1, 2010