This commentary is provided by special arrangement with American Jewish World Service. To learn more, visit www.ajws.org.
One of the blessings recited as Jews light the Hanukkah candles each year is: “Blessed are you, the force that rules the universe, who made possible miracles for our ancestors, in those days, and also makes the same possible for us in our own times.” We celebrate to remember the past and to renew our confidence in the present and the future.
Hanukkah celebrates political will and fortitude as well as the mysterious quality of trust in something greater than human effort alone. The successful revolt against the Seleucid Empire was a triumph over the forces of totalitarianism. It was nurtured by its connection to the One God whose word is eternally opposed to tyranny and the abuse of wealth and power that dehumanizes the weak, the different and the marginalized. A light was kindled in the hearts of a few—one that told them they could battle oppression, cynicism and greed if they could call upon deep wisdom to guide their struggle.
Hundreds of years after the Maccabee revolt, the rabbis of the Talmud related that when the victorious Jewish rebels entered the Temple, they found only enough oil to light the menorah for one day, yet the oil lasted for eight days. I understand both the Maccabees’ challenge to the imperial forces and the long-burning menorah as demonstrations of faith and courage. They are the twin miracles that beat the odds and challenged conventional wisdom.
What are the struggles of our day where our faith and courage can bring about similar miracles? In what areas do we need to call upon the clear bright light of chochmah—wisdom (equated in our tradition with oil)—to ignite the miraculous and essential transformations that are so needed?
In 2009, two Wall Street Journal writers, Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, published a book called Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty. In it, they tell the story of the world’s hungry, citing the inconceivable statistic that 25,000 people throughout the Global South die every day from hunger, malnutrition and related diseases. Their title is telling: Enough!! The authors make it abundantly clear that there is indeed enough food in the world to feed everyone. The tragic shame is that not everyone has access to it.