Let your light shine.
The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah has a profound message, amidst the latkes and dreidels and presents and singing. That message is contained in the central symbol of the festival, the eight-branched menorah, or hanukkiah. We not only light one more candle each successive night, adding to the glow, but we also place our hanukkiot in the windows of our homes for the whole world to see.
The Talmud, an ancient compendium of Jewish law, instructs: It is incumbent to place the Hanukkah lamp by the door of one’s house on the outside. If one dwells in an upper chamber, one places it at the window closest to the public domain. However, in times of danger, one places it on the table in the privacy of one’s home and that is adequate (BT Shabbat 21b).
Our sages understood the value of sharing our culture with our neighbors. They understood that it’s not enough merely to enjoy our Jewish heritage, but that it’s also beautiful to share it with the wider community. The Hanukkah lights are an invitation to engage with one another across religious and cultural divides. They are a beacon sent into the world that our families are open and peace-loving, and that we welcome relationship with our neighbors. They are a message that we are proud of our heritage and eager to share it.
How fortunate we are to live in a multi-cultural society, and to live in a peaceful land. Truly, each one of us can place our lights in the window — whether they be the eight candles of Hanukkah, the seven candles of Kwanzaa, the twinkling lights of Christmas, or the dancing flames of Diwali — and know that they are respected and honored. Let us dedicate ourselves to living in harmony at this season, and all throughout the year.
Light is powerful. It warms, connects, and inspires. Light makes us feel safe and secure. In the darkness of a long winter night, light sends a signal to others of welcome and joy. “One for each night,” the light builds, glowing ever brighter, ever more hopeful. And when light from a Hanukkiah blends with light from trees, decorations, Kinaras, then our neighborhoods truly burn brighter and more hopeful still.
If our combined lights can banish the darkness on the longest nights of the year, imagine what they can do throughout.
Light is a symbol with many meanings. Light not only symbolizes hope and friendship, but also the soul, which is to say, our own personal experience and unique expression. So when the rabbis of old encourage us to put our lamp on the outside, I understand that as an invitation not only to share our communal culture with each other but also our individuality. Imagine a world where everyone was free to be him or herself, and to share that unique being with the world at large. That would be a joyous place indeed.
These holidays, I invite you to let your light shine.
• Rabbi Dean Shapiro is the spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel of Tempe, a Reform Jewish congregation serving Ahwatukee Foothills and the Southeast Valley. Reach him at (602) 565-3492.