Hanukkah: Looking back to move us forward

December 7, 2012

M. Bruce Lustig is Senior Rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation.

When Antiochus forbade the Jews of Judea to pray and participate in their religious rituals, the darkness they experienced was not only physical but spiritual as well. The purpose of the revolt of Judah and his followers was to win back the right to live freely as Jews. When the last front was won and the “hammer-like” attacks of Judah the Maccabee ended in victory, the men and women of Jerusalem gathered to rededicate their Temple. In this rededication they not only brought light to the sacred menorah, but they gave light to one another. They knew that in the darkest of times they could find light through who they chose to be, what they chose to fight for, and why.

Thousands of years later, we have the opportunity again to remind our children and ourselves who we are by what we choose to do. At Hanukkah, we should not only light the hanukkiah, but we should also bring light and hope to those in need in our great city of Washington, D.C. and around the world.

America has turned the modern holiday experience into a commercial endeavor. We need to return it to a spiritual opportunity, a time to rededicate ourselves to the needs of others. Recently a 25-year-old New York City policeman, Larry DePrimo, reminded us of how simple this can be.

As the officer walked his beat, in two pairs of wool socks to keep his feet warm, he found sitting on the street a homeless man with no shoes, barefoot in the frigid cold. The officer asked the man if he had any shoes, and when he said he did not, what the officer did next was inspirational and worthy of our attention and emulation. He walked a few feet down the avenue, entered a Skechers store, and bought a pair of warm socks and a $75 pair of all-weather insulated boots with his own money. He walked out of the store and knelt down gently and placed the boots on the man’s bare feet. He told no one and he did not seek any recognition for his act of generosity. This act of human kindness would have perhaps been unnoticed had not a tourist from Arizona captured the moment in a picture and sent the photo to the NYPD, praising the department for having officers who not only protected but served as well. 

Officer DePrimo did not ask for the cheapest boots to give away rather he asked for the warmest. He wanted to do the best he could for someone in need. I believe that Hanukkah is about bringing such light into this often dark world, the light of caring for others in need. I have called upon my own congregation to make this a Hanukkah of giving, not of getting, of bringing the light of love, human kindness and caring into our community through deeds.

Maybe at this holiday season you will give to families that are victims of Superstorm Sandy or to those without shelter and food here in our nation’s capital. Perhaps you will make a donation to a cause you believe is doing worthy work to repair the world. Or you can also give time, an hour a day volunteering at a shelter, a soup kitchen, a school or just helping a neighbor in need. Buy a homeless person a pair of shoes, a jacket or a meal. No act of kindness is too small. Ultimately, which cause you choose to support matters not as much as the simple choice to act.

As we enter the celebration of Hanukkah, we are reminded that long ago, as Judah and his followers entered the great Temple and rekindled the flame of the Eternal Light, they knew that by choosing to live by the principles of our faith, we can create light for a better, brighter tomorrow. Especially at this time, we all have the opportunity to work together to bring the light of dedication to our world. 

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