Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Increasing Our Holiness by Increasing the Light

The academies of Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel, two great Jewish authorities of the First century BCE, were once engaged in a debate about how to light the Hanukkah menorah.

The students of Shammai insisted that they should light eight lights on the first night, seven on the second night, and so on down to lighting one on the last night.

The students of Hillel argued in favor of starting with one light and lighting an additional one every night, concluding with eight on the final night.  And as with most instances of disagreement between these two academies, Hillel’s method won out.

The rationale was as clear as the olive oil used in the lighting the lamps.  One should increase the light each night, as with each subsequent evening ceremony we invite more light – and thus more sanctity – into our homes and into our world.  As we move forward in time, we increase the light and strengthen the sacred connection between and among members of the human race.

The miracle of the Maccabees’ military victory led to a rebirth of religious liberty for all inhabitants of the ancient land of Israel.  No longer did the Jews have to exist subservient to an occupying nation which had sought to eliminate Judaism.  The popular story of the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days inspired them to ascribe their accomplishments to God.

In our day as well, the struggle for religious freedom continues, in our country and all over the world.  Will we realize miracles in those efforts?  Will we be able to bring sanctity to those who suffer oppression from the many ‘masters’ who control the lives of others?

As with all things, it begins with us.  If we increase the holiness in our lives
  • by treating people in just and fair ways;
  • by eliminating gossip and slander from our speech;
  • by devoting ourselves to helping friends and family through difficult situations; and
  • by taking part in movements to bring repair to our world;
we too will move upward from one strength to a greater one, and we will increase the sanctity of the entire world.  We can, each day, dedicate ourselves to bringing more wholeness – and holiness – to humanity.

Happy Hanukkah!

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