By Rabbi Elchonon Feldman, Bushey United Synagogue
A few years ago, I was invited to lead a Chanukah lighting ceremony in City Hall, London. I recall how poignant it felt to be lighting the Menorah, while gazing upon the River Thames, with Tower Bridge shining brightly before us. This bridge, I commented to those gathered, represents a monarchy that has been a safe-haven for our people for centuries. The whole experience was truly moving and in the spirit of the moment I shared a new insight into this timeless festival: Jews do not typically flaunt their religion in the face of their neighbours. In fact, we are trained from a young age to, where appropriate, be inconspicuous regarding our Jewish practice. Yet once a year, on Chanukah, all of this changes. Suddenly, on the 25th night of Kislev, the Jewish home literally opens its curtains and proudly shines forth a symbol of victory, the Menorah. Why is there this sudden aberration from our standard modus operandi? What is unique about this eight day holiday that inspires us to publicise it for the entire world to see?
Chanukah represents the eternal struggle of the underdogs of history. It represents the mighty attempting to subjugate the weak. On Chanukah all those years ago, we were very weak; the Greek Empire saw us as easy targets for their cultural conquest. They knew that no watching nation would dare raise a hand in protest. Miraculously, G-d intervened and we were saved from the hands of the enemy.
Every year at this time, we express our gratitude for our deliverance. The Menorah therefore acts as a powerful symbol. It is a reminder to the world that tyrants will always exist and they will perpetually bid to seize control of those who are weak. If onlookers stand by, the oppressors will win. We light our small candles for the world to see as a reminder of the plight of the weak. We must reinforce the idea that the struggle of the weak is our battle as well and it is the duty of peoples to stand up and to be heard even when the odds are against them. We must publicise this message, lest history repeat itself again and again.
Perhaps this is why the Chanukah candles are so small. Do not be mistaken into thinking that to make a difference, for one’s voice to be heard, a tremendous light such as a torch or a bonfire, is needed. In fact, a simple small flicker can illuminate a room full of darkness, allowing for the rights of the needy to be heard and the strength of the wicked to be quelled. We light our candles from generation to generation to remember our personal miracle and as a reminder to the world that the flame of freedom must be kept alight for all time.