Having Chanukah fall so early this year has in some ways allowed us to separate Chanukah out from the glitz and glamour of Christmas. Whatever Jews do on Christmas day, from Turkey lunches with family to enjoying local carol concerts and BOGOF offers on gifts, I am always much more concerned with how we understand and engage with Chanukah. Chanukah isn’t necessarily the natural comparator to Christmas. Perhaps being trapped with the family for endless meals seems to me to be closer to Pesach!
Indeed having this distance is a great opportunity to remind ourselves that Chanukah is not meant to compete with Christmas for our children’s affection, and attention. 8 nights of presents is a nineteenth century introduction, as suddenly 8 nights of increasing and miraculous light, and celebrating the miracle of a tiny guerrilla army beating the might of the Seleucids, seems to have not been quite compelling enough.
About a decade ago, whenever I wrote about Chanukah I was excited to explore the fact that the name of the festival comes from Chinuch – to dedicate. As I had worked as the Reform Students Chinuch Fieldworker (or educator) it was clear that our sense of education as Jews was intrinsically tied up with dedication. This is a brilliant reminder that education cannot be dry and inactive, if it is to ensure a Jewish future, but rather it must be something that inspires us to be dedicated to our Judaism.
This year, however, another message has been presenting itself. This little cruse of oil which we have celebrated for so many generations, is perhaps more relevant and poignant today than ever before. We have all seen the public outrage sparked by yet more increases in energy prices, and some will likely end up choosing between heating and eating. At this point the majority can make small savings here and there and maybe turn the thermostat down a degree or two but will keep the heating on. But fossil fuels cannot last forever, and while research continues, technology isn’t yet available or being adopted widely enough to replace them. As oil and gas become scarcer, we will all face the challenge of making a little last for longer. Indeed if we could make one day’s worth of energy last for eight days things might look quite different. Chanukah comes, it seems, to remind us that our resources are not infinite, and we must make a little go further. We cannot afford to squander what we have, and we are all in this together.
We see a similar approach in this week’s Torah portion. Following on from his dream interpretations, Joseph is in the midst of looking after Egypt whilst neighbouring nations struggle with famine and hunger. Egypt has used its stores carefully, and shared what it had communally, and as a result, becomes a magnet, drawing Joseph’s estranged brothers into his sphere of influence, reuniting them once again. His is a key role is as co-ordinator of a huge national effort to preserve resources and make them last, meaning the good times weren’t great excessive excuses for celebration, but the bad times also weren’t so difficult.
Perhaps both Mikketz and Chanukah come together to hammer the point home – we need to look after one another, to share light, and to dedicate ourselves to Judaism and to living well together. A huge part of looking after one another is ensuring there is enough for all, through the good times and the bad, and the way we consume today bears no thought for our future or the masses of plastic waste we are leaving the generations to come, not to mention the diminished resources; oil and otherwise. So as we light our Chanukah candles tonight, and watch the light increase each night, let’s think beyond today, and imagine how we might make the miracle of Chanukah a reality in our day, and help ensure there is enough for tomorrow.
Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.