We light the menorah during the eight nights of Chanukah, which begins tonight, to honor the Maccabees, the small Jewish army that managed to fight off vicious invaders who had desecrated or destroyed every trace of Jewish spiritual observance in Judea, including the temple in Jerusalem. The Maccabees’ victory was dampened by the fact that there was only one remaining flask of holy oil with which to light the menorah and rededicate the temple. Miraculously, this oil lasted and burned for eight days, the perfect amount of time needed before new oil could be pressed. They saw this as a smile from above, a sign that they were wanted! This gave them the strength to rebuild through all the ruins and darkness.
Our holiday celebrations serve as a reminder that it’s possible to light up the darkest of settings. We illuminate the dark days of winter, gathering together in the warmth of tradition and connection. Leaving a staff meeting last year, I noticed a homeless person shivering in the cold. I had a turkey sandwich in my bag that I knew he needed more than me, so I bought two cups of tea and went over to him. He said no to my sandwich at first, but I told him that the turkey was kosher, and he began to laugh. This was the opening. I sat down and told him that we were going to have lunch together. As we ate and shared our stories, my new friend Freddie started crying, and then so did I. I asked him why and he said, “You first.” I told him that I was crying because I saw him cry. Then he answered. “I’m crying because you wanted to have lunch with me.”
I looked for Freddie during my next trip into the city but did not find him. I take with me always the lesson he taught me — the difference it makes to feel wanted. Whether it be for clients, colleagues, family members, or even ourselves, we have the capacity to bring light into the darkness. Tapping into our capacity to care and be cared for can bring enough warmth for any winter day.
Happy holidays to all. Light up the darkness no matter where it is found. May you always feel wanted and generate that feeling within others with all that you do!
Rabbi Ilan Ginian, MSW
Director of Kesher & Partners in Caring