Usually we explain the festival of Chanukah with the Midrash that tells of the miracle that occurred when the Jews entered the Temple of Jerusalem, after having freed the city from Greek invaders.
We learn how there was only enough oil, with the seal of the High Priest, for one day for the Temple candelabra… but it lasted for eight. A festival was instituted every year to mark this victory and this miracle (Talmud of Babiylon, Tractate Shabbat 21b).
But this isn’t the only Midrash the Talmud includes relating to Chanukah.
Entering their first winter, Adam and Eve saw that the light was decreasing (Talmud of Babylon, Avodah Zarah 8a).
They could not understand why – maybe it was a punishment for standing up to God? – so, they prayed and fasted for eight days.
At the end of this period, they saw that the days were slowly getting longer, and they rejoiced to the sight of longer light in their days.
They decided to mark these eight days every year, as an expression of their gratitude to the Creator who did not let darkness overrun the Creation.
It is no coincidence that this theme of light against darkness occurs at this time of the year when, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, we are heading towards the shortest day of the year.
Beyond an old narrative that tried to explain the cycle of the length of days, there is a profound spiritual teaching. It is upon us to bear witness of the light that illumines our world, and to do so in an active manner.
It is our duty as guests in God’s creation to ensure that light shines brighter than darkness.
This has been a difficult year on so many different levels, and our mission is to hold high the candles and to bring light in this world that needs it so desperately.
· Written by Rabbi Dr René Pfertzel (Co-Chair of the Conference of Liberal Rabbis and Cantors) and Rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen Co-Chair of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis and Cantors)