There is no better timing for the celebration of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, than the current period when the world is characterized by divisiveness and light is so much needed. Humanity now faces the impact of a global virus that has basically penetrated every corner of the planet while the pandemic of hatred and separation continues to spread worldwide. It is precisely the Jewish nation that has the power to ignite love above hatred and light above darkness.
The word “Hanukkah,” from Hebrew “Hanu-Koh,” or “park here,” actually refers to a spiritual process. It represents the first stage of spiritual development in which we start correcting the desire for selfish enjoyment and invert it into a desire to bestow upon others, a state that liberates us from the darkness of separation, conflicts, arguments, ruthless competitiveness, and the drive to exploit and dominate others.
The holiday symbolizes our inner struggle to overcome our egoistic nature called “the War of the Maccabees against the Greeks.” The “Greeks” personify the hedonistic characteristics that yearn to control everything around us, in other words, for our egoistic attributes of self-indulgence to dominate. There is nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy. In fact, our very nature is a desire to receive pleasure. What is problematic is using our skills and talents in a self-centered way, for our self-aggrandizement rather than for the common good.
We see this in the way the Greeks adored competition and admired winners. The Jews, on the other hand, cultivated “love your neighbor as yourself” as the highest ideal. That principle has become lost in our endless quest for success at the expense of others, yet it is precisely what we need to reclaim and implement in order to raise the whole world to a positive state.
Therefore, the war described in the story of Hanukkah refers to an internal struggle that we have fought throughout generations. Even when we do not have an apparent enemy, our inner enemy always rebels within us, again and again pulling us toward worshiping various idols like power, fame, and control. We are still drawn to them, but we understand they are temporary and harmful and bring no good results.
The victory over the Greeks is the first step of every person’s progress up the spiritual ladder. When we can rejoice in each other’s successes and share our concerns in mutual connection, we will realize what nature tries to teach us: that we belong to one single body. But today, the opposite happens and the Jewish nation is more separated than ever. Thus, these challenging times are an opportunity to realize that our most urgent call to action is to unite and become a positive example of connection like modern-day Maccabees who win the war over our egoistic inclinations. If we take just the tiniest step in this direction, we will see miracles along the way. We will see how a small lamp, the smallest jar of oil, will kindle a strong and warm fire that illuminates the life of every person.
The holiday of Hanukkah signifies the victory of light over darkness, unity over division. Indeed, such a victory requires no less than a miracle, but it is one within our grasp. We need only know how to light the candle to make it happen. Through our connection, we strike a match against the darkness and ignite the light in our lives. This is the brilliance of Hanukkah. Like with a match, a little friction transforms into a bright flame.