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A Pause for Thought for Chanukah

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner appeared on BBC Radio 2 with Vanessa Feltz. You can listen to her ‘Pause for Thought’ again here at 47 minutes into the programme and the full transcript can be read here:

Chanukah begins tonight. The heavy, oily food we traditionally eat means I end the eight days feeling anything but light – ironic, because light is precisely the theme of this festival. Chanukah is the Jewish celebration of light: we remember the rededication of the desecrated Holy Temple in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, and a special miracle. A supply of oil for lighting the Temple that could only have lasted one day is said to have miraculously lasted eight days, enough time to bring more supplies to the war-ravaged Jerusalem.

So Chanukah we bring out an eight branched candelabrum or what we call a chanukiyah in Hebrew. We light an additional candle to mark every night of this miraculous event, starting with one and ending on the eighth night with a fully lit chanukiyah.

Every lit candle – every new evening – represents more light and more joyful celebration.

But each year, at Chanukah, I don’t just feel festive cheer, but also festive tears.

The fourth night of Chanukah, this Friday, coincides with anniversary of my mum’s untimely death, 18 years ago. Instead of lighting just one extra candle on that day, I light two: one for Chanukah and one for her, a special memorial candle.

Instead of just remembering the dedication of the Holy Temple, I am also dedicated to remembering her. And it’s amazing how much I remember. I can still feel what it is like to hold her hand; to see her face. I remember the sound of her voice, her warmth, her essence. Talmud, the most important compilation of Jewish law, teaches that one person’s candle is a light for many.

So often it’s like this – our joys are mixed up with pain and sadness. The moments of celebration at this time of year also evoke pain for many people. Light and darkness always bound together. On Friday, when we light the fourth candle, we’ll have an exactly equal number of lit and unlit candles. We’ll have both darkness and light in equal measure.

By the eight day, by the time I light the eighth candle, I normally feel renewed, refreshed and relieved – I’m able to absorb light into my darkness. And maybe, probably, be ready for an oily treat or two as well.

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