Everyone Matters

Lighting candles on Hanukkah is easy enough that anyone can participate.


“…because these holidays were brought about by Israel’s own deeds, every Jewish soul can be restored through them. Every single Jew can find a way of belonging and attachment to them.”

Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger

Hanukkah is an easy holiday to keep in Jewish terms. It’s fun and happy; it celebrates a divine miracle and a military victory, and it demands very little of us in terms of participation. The only commandment of Hanukkah is the lighting of a menorah nightly (no, it is not an actual mitzvah to eat donuts), a mitzvah that does not take much time or effort. The ease of the holiday should help people recognize that their participation really matters. Why? Usually only that which demands a lot of us offers the rewards of holiness.

Shabbat and Hanukkah

Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, or the Sfat Emet (Language of Truth) (1847-1905) gives us an insight into the answer in his commentary. He mentions that his grandfather taught him an important lesson about people from a law recorded about Shabbat and Hanukkah.
hanukkah candle lighting
There is a Talmudic discussion of what wicks and oils qualify for use on these two holidays. Because of the time constraint in lighting Shabbat candles, we are advised not to use just any oil since some are less effective than others. Such oils can, however, be used on Hanukkah. Rabbi Yehudah Leib’s grandfather taught him that although not everyone participates in Shabbat observance, everyone can join in to Hanukkah lighting.

Unlike Shabbat, Hanukkah is not a holiday written about in the Bible. It was generated by human gumption and hard work, coupled with God’s gift of a jug of oil that lasted for eight days. Rabbi Yehudah Leib says that Purim and Hanukkah “are special times that Israel merited by their own deeds” which demonstrates that people are “capable of creating new sacred times by their deeds.” As such, it should be easy for people to relate to the mitzvah of Hanukkah and feel a sense of belonging with the Jewish community.

Professor Arthur Green, who wrote a commentary on Rabbi Yehudah Leib’s commentary, describes this insight in the following way:

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Dr. Erica Brown is the Director for Adult Education at The Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning and consults for The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. She is an author-winning author and the recipient of the 2009 Covenant Award. Erica has served as an adjunct professor at American University and George Washington University. She lectures on subjects of Jewish interest and leadership.

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