Sunday night was the beginning of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.
Many people know the story of the eight days — that there was only enough oil left in the Temple to light the Eternal Flame for a single night, not enough to burn for the eight days it would take to produce more oil. But the oil lasted until more could be made, and the Miracle of Lights is still celebrated by Jews across the world.
What people forget is why the Hebrews found their temple without oil. It had been ransacked by the Syrians, who were trying to oppress the Jews, to force them to forsake their God for the Syrians’ many tribal gods. Thousands of years ago, fighting in the Middle East to kill those who believed differently.
But the Jews survived. Their faith sustained them, and when they defeated the Syrians, their first thought was not revenge or retaliation, but rededication of their desecrated Temple; rededication to their God.
An interesting tale in this day and age, and perhaps more relevant than it has been in many years.
O God, what can I say now that Israel
Has bared its neck to its enemies?
–Joshua 7 : 8
My God and Sovereign, The lights shimmer
So cheerfully in our houses tonight —
These lights that we kindle as evening falls,
Their gentle glow recalling the time
When your merciful light shone down on us
In the midst of a night of oppression and danger.
As the terrifying hand of King Antiochus was raised
Against your people, as it oppressed us and abused us,
As the Syrian king, in his stubborn frenzy,
Tried to compel us to deny our faith
And turn our wholesome honor of God into idolatry —
As he desecrated the temple
And disgraced the holy tabernacle,
You called forth might, glorious warriors
And champions of right from among your people,
You se up the noble sons of Mattathias
At the heed of that small band of Maccabees
And lent them victory and triumph
Then our ancestors came into your temple,
Purified the holy spaces
That the barbarians had desecrated,
Kindled the lights at the holy places,
And dedicated this day
As a day of liberty and celebration for all time.
In the shimmer of these lights we remember those days
When absolute faith and childlike love you,
Exalted Eternal One, returned again
To the faltering, weary hearts of your people,
When our holy religion inspired their hearts once more
And burned within them
With Heavenly strength and purity
In all its shining nobility.
May these little lights,
Which serve as a testament to that great epoch,
Also beckon us to rekindle the holiest awe, love,
And trust in you , Eternal Parent, in our own hearts.
May we always nurture these holy feelings,
So we do not grow weary or falter
When misfortune and trouble enter our lives.
And when we are faced with difficult tests,
May we honor your will with dedications and piety,
Patiently bearing whatever we have been given,
Never crying out in doubt,
“There is no help for us in God.”
You place burdens on us
And relieve us of our burdens,
You change darkness into light and mourning into joy.
May you make our hearts strong and vigorous,
That we may always act with complete devotion
And firm commitment to you and your holy works,
Proving ourselves to be courageous warriors
And champions of your diving command. Amen