As we prepare to begin celebrating Hanukkah on Sunday evening, I am reminded that this special festival holds an important lesson about the power of authenticity.
Rabbi Benjamin Blech once observed that the role of oil in the holiday—the miracle of oil in the Temple, oil candles, oil-based foods—contains rich symbolism. While other liquids often blend with others, oil refuses to lose its distinct character and disappear. “No matter how hard you try, oil stays true to itself and just won’t assimilate,” he writes.1
More than 2,000 years ago, the dominance of the ruling Greek empire almost destroyed Judaism through assimilation. It is therefore fitting, notes Rabbi Blech, that the successful Maccabean uprising and the rededication of the Temple is symbolized by a substance that “stays true to itself.”
It seems to be no coincidence that we have a tradition of publicly displaying our lit hanukkiah for eight nights, usually in a prominent window. Doing so teaches our children and grandchildren a vital truth: There is beauty in authenticity, even when being true to oneself means standing out in the world around us.
The great Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, zt”l, famously spoke of “the dignity of difference.” Before an audience at the University of California, he once shared an encounter that brought this insight to life in a wonderful way.
He recalled how, while visiting Eilat from his hometown of London, an Israeli boat guide mentioned he had recently visited Britain. The guide shared all that he loved of the UK, including its history, scenery, and people. He then looked around at the desert hills of southern Israel, a broad smile came on his face, and he said: “Aval zeh shelanu.”
“But this is ours.”
“There are other nations, other cultures, other creeds—each beautiful in its own way,” said Rabbi Sacks. “But this is ours. Let us wear our identity with pride. Let us always be true to our faith and a blessing to others regardless of their faith. And we will bring blessings to the world.”
This Hanukkah, may we be inspired by the realization that our light is a unique one. And when we add it to the world, whether as individual Jews or as a Jewish community, our entire society is made brighter by our authenticity.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Hanukkah Sameach,