The Light of Hope and Justice

by Rabbi Gil Steinlauf 

Scholar-in-Residence, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington

Chanukah is the Festival of Lights, where Jewish people celebrate the miracle of our small Jewish numbers overcoming tyranny in the Land of Israel.  One of the central ideas of Chanukah is something called “Pirsumei Nisa.”  This phrase, which literally translates as “publicizing the miracle,” constitutes one of the core observances of Chanukah, along with the lighting of the menorah and the reciting of the blessings.  We can see examples of Pirsumei Nisa in public menorah displays, proudly celebrating our festival alongside Christmas displays. The rabbis in ancient times, however, were very clear in teaching that the most important place to publicly display our menorahs was not in public squares and parking lots, but in our own homes!  We are to light the menorah and place the lights in a window so that others can see the light of the miracle emerging from within the place of our families, from our personal lives. The Talmud (Shabbat 23a) even goes so far as to say that if we are traveling during Chanukah, better we should have someone light the menorah in our homes for us, even though we’re not actually there.

Why such an emphasis on our homes?  Firstly, it is in our own homes where Judaism is most important - more important than synagogues or any other public place. The home is where we live our most authentic lives, in our primary relationships, where our impact on others is the strongest. Second, we want to publicize the light of the Chanukah miracle out to the world as a statement of strength, bravery and faith in the way the Maccabees bravely stood up for the Jewish people even as ancient tyrants tried to stamp us out. Nowadays on Chanukah, we shine lights from our private space out into the world bravely demonstrating that the lives we lead reflect a yearning for a better, more just world.  

This Chanukah, we can still see much darkness in our world. The recent massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, as well as an uptick in hate speech, bigotry, global anti-Semitism and violence represent the tyranny we face in our days.  This year, perhaps more than in many years, we must live the wisdom of Pirsumei Nisa.  We must remind our neighbors, our society, and our world who we are as decent people, and what we really stand for - a world where all people can live in peace, where no one power seeks to oppress or terrorize or persecute another. We must demand that the world take notice that the miracle of overcoming hatred, bigotry and oppression can happen when we put faith in our potential to lift up the light.  

Most importantly, we Jewish people remind ourselves and the world that, through sheer force of our historical memory, no one should ever despair. The light of our menorahs represents, as Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlov once  taught, “Ain Ye’ush ba’olam klal,”  “There is no despair in the world.”  By this he means that any darkness we encounter always can be driven away. With the light that we possess - through our heritage and our values - we can show the whole world that there is always an alternative to hatred and fear and corruption. And that light begins in our homes writ large - in our own choices, day by day, to live the wisdom and insights borne of our teachings and traditions. 

So this year, when you see the lights of those glowing chanukiyot, remember the gift of what Chanukah brings to the world. Remember that what we really are doing is rekindling the light of hope and justice - a light that can drive away the darkness of all the despair we know.

Happy Chanukah!

Upcoming Events
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6:30 PM - 9:00 PM
The Jewish Studio
6125 Montrose Road, Rockville MD 20852
A musical celebration of shabbat, outdoors and with caring community.
Listed In:  20’s-30’s-40’s, Boomers, Families, Interfaith, Maryland, Non-denominational, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover)
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6:00 AM - 9:00 AM
Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (Friends of the Israel Defense Forces Mid Atlantic Chapter)
3935 Macomb St NW, Washington DC 20016
Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (FIDF) and Washington Hebrew Congregation are partnering together to welcome home the newest Birthright participants and our Greater DC Young Professional Community for a very special Macomb Street Shabbat experience. There will be music! There will be food! There will be drinks! and of course, Israelis to compliment a meaningful Shabbat service. More information to come!!
Listed In:  20’s-30’s-40’s, College (Late Teens/Early 20s), DC, Reform, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover), Israel, Social Events
Event Cost:  $10 - $24; TBD

Aug 16 - Aug 18
Multiple times available
Habonim Dror Camp Moshava
615 Cherry Hill Road, Street MD 21154
Come enjoy a Family Shabbat at Habonim Dror Camp Moshava, from August 16-18, open for families with school-age children and younger! We will be coming together for a Shabbat experience that will let you experience the Mosh Magic and give your little ones a chance to try something new. Our camp-style Shabbat will include Israeli folk dancing under the stars, singing around the campfire, hiking, and relaxation by the pool. Visit our registration link for more information. Tuition includes delic...
Listed In:  20’s-30’s-40’s, Families, Maryland, Non-denominational, Children/Teens/Family, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover), Social Events
Event Cost:  more than $50; $150/adult; $100/child age 2+

10:00 AM - 11:30 AM
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington (PJ Library in Greater Washington)
22711 Wildcat Rd, Germantown MD 20876
Let's get our Rosh Hashanah celebrations underway with a family outing to the apple orchard. We'll pick apples, take family photos, enjoy snacks and read stories with PJ Library, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Young Leadership, and Pop-Ups to Pop In. To register, each family can purchase one ticket which includes one bag to pick a peck of apples (approximately 11-12 pounds). Additional bags may be purchased with cash from the orchard the day of the event. Pop-Ups to Pop In! is fu...
Listed In:  Families, Maryland, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover), PJ Library Co-Sponsored, Social Events
Event Cost:  $25 - $50; $25/family

10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Garden of Remembrance Memorial Park
14321 Comus Road, Clarksburg MD 20871
19th Annual High Holy Days Memorial Services at the Memorial Park's Sadugor Gazebo
Listed In:  Families, Seniors, Maryland, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover)
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8:00 PM - 11:30 PM
Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (Friends of the Israel Defense Forces Mid Atlantic Chapter)
1201 Rockville Pike, Rockville MD 20852
FIDF's NEXT Community's signature Hanukkah event celebrating the work of FIDF and the local DC community. There is music, food, open bar and Israeli Soldiers! It is an incredible opportunity to meet new friends and catch up with old ones
Listed In:  20’s-30’s-40’s, Couples, Singles, Maryland, Fundraising/Philanthropy, Holiday/Shabbat (High Holidays, Chanukah, Passover), Israel, Networking, Social Events
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