I write this as the global community is unhinged, shaken and afraid. We are struggling to see through the darkness wrought by violence in God’s name. We are disoriented in the wake of the massacre of 130 people in Paris – an escalation of an ongoing campaign of terror waged by ISIS, the Islamic State; religious fundamentalism desecrating God’s name.
How can Jewish tradition help us navigate these turbulent waters? How can Judaism hold both the need and obligation to fight and stamp out this clear enemy to all of humanity, while not abandoning our responsibility and compassion to refugees who themselves are fleeing for their lives from our common enemy?
The approaching holiday of Hanukkah could not come too soon. Chaim Potok, author of “The Chosen” and “My Name is Asher Lev,” writes about Hanukkah, living through the final years of the Depression in New York City in 1938, as the terror of Kristallnacht was felt throughout the Jewish world. Potok, as a little boy, lived in fear of the shattering of glass, the burning down of synagogues, the deportation of Jews to concentration camps, not only for his brethren in Germany and Eastern Europe, but also for the nightmare of it coming to his block in New York City. “The days of that November and December,” he writes, “began to go dark, until it seemed all the world would soon be shades of darkness: dark sun and dark moon, dark sky and dark earth, dark night and dark day. I was a child then, but I still remember that darkness as a malevolence I could touch and smell, an evil growth draining my world of its light.”
That year, Potok can remember standing between his parents, as his father recited the blessings over the Hanukkah candles, chanting the words, “We kindle these lights … that we may give thanks unto Your name, for Your miracles, Your deliverances, and Your wonders.” Potok recalled thinking, “I want a miracle. But there were no miracles that Hanukkah. Where was God?” Potok’s father could see that his young son was struggling in his faith, saying to him, “You want another miracle? Yes, you want another miracle.” His father then shared what was in his own heart, “I also want another miracle. But if it does not come, we will make a human miracle. We will give the world the special gifts of our Jewishness. We will not let the world burn out our souls.” Potok’s father then gave his son the hope that, “Perhaps you will learn to make your own miracles. I will try to teach you how to make human miracles.”
When we recite the blessing Al HaNissim (For all the miracles) this Hanukkah, let us believe and take upon ourselves the challenge, in our generation, of being the miracle-makers that God seeks on Earth. Our Jewishness, which Potok’s father lifted up, is about standing up for and fighting for religious freedom that does not oppress in the name of God. Rather it is about finding common ground among religious traditions that choose to glorify God’s name, yes, through self-preservation, and increasing light by never giving up on the most vulnerable in our midst. That is the vision, that is the hope of the Miracle of Lights.
Rabbi John A. Linder is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel.