Tonight is the fourth night of Chanukah. Each night as another candle is lit, we sing, we have a little dance we play with the Driedel, the fun continues, presents, latkes, oh so many doughnuts ( of course the game ” who can eat a whole doughnut without licking their lips” must be played… it’s an impossibility!) parties are had.
The feeling of happiness and togetherness as you wonder out in to the street, and see a snapshot through countless windows of families coming together, of parents dancing the same dance, singing the same song nourishes the soul.
The story of Chanukah has the same theme as most other Jewish holidays, to quote Jackie Mason “They tried to kill us, we won, lets eat”. The role that light plays throughout Chanukah can teach us so many lessons.
Miracles can happen, bringing light to the darkest times. A few can outnumber many when they have a strong belief in God. Throughout the darkest of times we can prevail, all it needs is one tiny spark, a weak light, a flame flickering in the night, when we feel only darkness around us can suddenly catch, its flames gathering strength, the light at the very end of the tunnel which seemed so distant can draw nearer.
I have always been fascinated by the story of Chana. We have been told the story since childhood. ( Without the gory details). As children the story is one of hope and faith.
Chana lived under the tyranny of king Antiochus, a king whose sole ambition was to try to do what so many others have tried and failed, to wipe out Judaism. he forbade observance of all religious laws, anyone found practicing the jewish faith would be executed with no trial.
Chana had been blessed with 7 sons, she had raised them to be religious, God-fearing Jews. After being arrested and bound together with her 7 sons, the youngest only 7 years old they were presented to the king.
Antiochus, sat with each child and tried to convince them to bow to him. He threatened torture and death, torture so severe death would have been welcome. As each child stood before him he was sure they would eventually prevail and do as he had commanded. Yet each child refused him. Saying ” Why do you bother with your long speeches, we are ready to welcome death for the sake of our holy Torah”.
Their mother, stood, watching as each son was presented with the option, bow or die, a slow painful death.
Picture the scene, a mother stands, seeing her children, one by one being tortured, her children’s agonized screams, as Antiochus forces her to watch their painful death.
6 Children lie at her feet, one child remains, a 7 year old boy. His mother whispers to him “My son, I carried you in my body for nine months, I nursed you for 2 years, and I have fed you until today. I have taught you to fear God and uphold his Torah. See the heaven and earth the sea, land, fire and water, know that they were all created with the words of God. He created man to serve Him, and He will reward man for his deeds. The king, he knows he has been condemned before God. He thinks that if convinces you, God will have mercy on him. God controls your life’s breath, and can take your soul whenever He desires. If only I could se the greatness of your glorious place where we would be illuminated with God’s light and rejoice and exult together”
Her son, the last child Chana would ever hold and kiss, refused to bow, suffering torture worse than his brothers.
As her last child lay at her feet, the distraught, desperate mother climbed to a roof and threw herself down, laying to rest amongst her children.
A horrific story, a story which can generate so many questions about faith, what would God have really wanted and so many more, but a few things stand out for me.
A mother, so willing to serve God in any way she was able, the millions of other Jewish mothers throughout the centuries whom have given their lives, whose families have been torn from them by those who wish to destroy everything we as Jews hold dear. Sometimes in life the real meaning of what it means to be a believer, to have a faith in God gets swept up in the shallowness of the world we all live in, what we wear, cars we drive, houses we live in become of utmost importance to us, imagine a world where religion was about true faith and none of the those things really matter, where we do not judge people on outside appearance.
The big picture is the second one. I know a couple of people who are tragically severely ill. The words the big picture have been on my mind recently, talking to people who do not know, as Chana did not what tomorrow may hold has taught me a tough life lesson. Recently I had words with someone I hold very dear to me, it was a silly little thing that grew in to a frosty silence. Looking at the situation it occurred to me, does it really matter? Is the big picture being lost here? We have so much to live and love for, do the silly little petty arguments we hold on to, we let grow, let the bitterness come alive, really matter? I know that I value her friendship and with that thought I will move on and hold on to the big picture, in which I can see friendship, help and support when we both need.
The final, and the biggestone is gratitude, we live in a generation where our lives as Jews are not under direct threat, ( we never know if another Holocaust is around the corner though) we can walk in the street, shop in any store, send to Jewish schools and live an openly religious life. How grateful we need to be to be born in to this generation. Tonight I am holding a Chanukah street party in my home, in our lovely little street resides, Hindu’s Christians, Jews and I am sure some atheists live dotted around. We will all come together tonight, in unity, in friendship to celebrate what Chana did not have, freedom, appreciation and joy. I am comfortable in the knowledge that none of my neighbours want to cut my throat for being a Jew ( well I hope not anyway… that wouldn’t make for a party atmosphere) and tonight we will celebrate that unity, and who knows maybe learn to respect each other a little more.
Wishing you warmth from the light, hope from the flames that grow each night and love from the family and friends you will be with.