What we really celebrate on Chanukah


For most of Jewish history we were lived on pretty modest means. The average  meal was some kind of fried potato dish. Children played with little toys, usually a spinning top. The only light was a small candle.

We celebrate Chanukah by eating fried potatoes, playing with a top, all by candle light. Our celebration of Chanukah looks exactly the same as daily life over the last thousand years.

Why, then, is Chanukah such a big deal if we are doing something exactly the same as we would already be doing? On Passover we eat special foods. On Sukkot we spend time in a structure completely different from our house. There is no doubting that these are holidays. Chanukah, though, if no one told you it was a holiday, you may not know it was anything special.

I believe that is precisely the point. The real miracle of the Jewish people is ordinary people doing ordinary things under extraordinary circumstances. The story of the Maccabees was the struggle to live normal Jewish lives despite the efforts of our enemies. The Maccabees did not want to conquer the territories of the Assyrian Hellenists or take their possessions. They just wanted their daily lives back.

In the Warsaw ghetto during the Holocaust the Jews set up children’s theaters, and literary societies. Under horrifying conditions that would have broken the spirits of so many, the Jews of the ghetto went about their ordinary lives as best they could. They were determined to live as spiritually free human beings as long as they could.

Chanukah celebrates how miraculous it often is just to get through our day. There are so many challenges, whether the economy or illness or even the general anxieties of life. Chanukah is a reminder that every day is worth celebrating.


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