Miketz, Genesis 41:1-44:17
I love Chanukah.
I love Chanukah because of the latkes and the jelly donuts, the dreidels and the gelt, the family fun and the increasing light. While many of us share a cornucopia of Chanukah memories, at its core, Chanukah is a holiday about stretching a little as far as you can.
We all know it too well; there are two stories to be told about Chanukah:
The historical record in the Books of Maccabees teaches us that the miracle of Chanukah was the ability of those who were few in number to overcome the great in number. It is an inspirational story. Judah Maccabee with his small group of guerrilla warriors somehow was able to overcome the great Syrian Greek army. After taking control of the desecrated Temple, realizing that they were not able to celebrate the fall festival of Sukkot in its appropriate time, the re-dedication ceremony itself lasted for eight days, mimicking the eight days of Sukkot. Our earliest resources teach us that the first Chanukah was in fact called ‘Sukkot in Kislev’. Even without the resources to celebrate Sukkot in its season, we stretched and made do with what we had.
The spiritual record found hundreds of years later in the Talmud picks up the story well. According to the rabbis, when Judah Maccabee approached the Temple and tried to relight the eternal light, there was only enough oil for just one day of light. Even while he dispatched others to seek more oil, the oil that was to last for only one day lasted for eight days. It was a miracle from God. Living under Roman rule, the rabbis’ emphasis on God’s role in the miracle de-emphasized the role of the Jews in creating a political uprising. It was a politically astute way of recasting the story in a time when the rabbis wanted to extend the good will of the Romans for as long as they could.
While I do prefer the historical accuracy of the first story, I do love both stories. Both renditions teach us the same lesson: with God’s help we can stretch limited resources into great, dare I say ‘miraculous,’ results. For me, Chanukah is a clarion call that we need not have lots to accomplish lots.
The message became even clearer to me when I was preparing for a lesson with our fifth-grade students at the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry. A part of Temple Sinai’s family education series called “No Holiday From Hunger,” this lesson was intended to raise up the virtue of feeding the hungry in the midst of our Chanukah celebrations. After uncovering the connections between the historical and spiritual records, we journeyed to the food pantry where we realized that the miracle of making a little last a lot happens on a daily basis.
With help from the pantry’s executive director, Matthew Bolton, our parents and children began to understand how it is that so many in our community stretch limited resources in order to fill their own pantries and tables with abundant food. After serving in the pantry, our families explored how it is that each and every night of Chanukah, with its increasing lights, can be a sacred moral call to help people in need.
Just as the Maccabees and the rabbis told the story of few resources (soldiers and oil) stretching very far in their own day, so may we in our own day acknowledge that the rift between those who have much and those who have little is growing ever wider. While we know that it’s true in economics, I challenge you to consider the rift in social, educational, support services and other venues as well. Perhaps this year, with the juxtaposition of Thanksgiving and Chanukah, our cornucopias will be filled with both abundant resources and abundant hope that those who do have enough can help those who are stretching their limited resources in hopes of abundance.
Chag Chanukah Sameach — Happy Chanukah.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)