President’s January 2023 Column

The Gift of Less

Hanukkah has arrived just as the frigid north wind has settled upon our shtetl. The joy of lighting the candles and singing a song or two was enhanced this year when two of our small grandchildren also participated. The presents at the end certainly were appreciated and added to our gift of the season. We each, reading these words, have the gift of life itself. We have but little time on a world that has spun for the millions of years like a dreidel in the vacuum of space.

The Jewish tradition of reflection is built into the very nature of our identity. The notion to question that which may seem obvious is not out of malice towards the other and certainly should not be done for the sake to appear superior. Rather it is centered around curiosity and the idea that healthy discussion starts with a question, never the answer. Rabbis would sit for hours and discuss some text or series of patterns they perceived and try to find greater truth within. In Judaism healthy discussion of all sorts is permissible while the exact nature of God or Torah were never thought to be known precisely by man. This separated our religion from many other dogmas. We have no reincarnated baby that possesses truth, no chimney smoke that anoints the next person to answer saintly questions posed by man. It may be this very nature of the minutia discussion upon pin heads that helped define the Jewish intellect.

Therefore, in the nature and tradition of reinterpretation for its own sake, how may we see Hanukkah in a novel way? We know the basics of the story taking place in 138 BCE when the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks) tried to conquer the Jews while the small band of the Maccabean tribe were victorious. We retell to children the miracle of the small amount of oil for the eternal light lasting eight full days. We have many ways to relate to the story. Such as when God is on the side of right or when passion is in our hearts, we can overcome most any obstacle.

It is also a story of diminished resources. The size of the army was said to be highly mismatched – the Maccabees were “out sword’ed”. The essence of war at the time favored numbers over technology. The burning oil itself once plentiful in peace time became scarce. But somehow our light continued to glow. This notion that we must make do when little is provided does not escape us even today. Often our needs exceed our budgets. There is the desire for more energy from a planet that has already given up so much sequestered carbon. Sometimes it feels like common sense is in short supply especially when we look at the injustices in our world from senseless wars and built-in prejudices toward people who appear on the outside as different.

Maybe the story of Hanukkah is to take that which is precious and learn to adapt to having less. To appreciate it more because it is dear. To be resourceful today, for what we may not have tomorrow. Is it not society’s role to make things better for those who follow as opposed to burn it all up today, simple because we can? How can we individually make wise choices for the good of our health, one’s family and the planet as we take the long-term approach? This concept to protect that which we have has been an overarching theme to my work as temple president.

We each can make our own miracles by working hard, by doing today to help tomorrow. We can preserve those things that we cherish by not being wasteful. Maybe the message for this Hanukkah is to make our wick just a bit more slender to allow the flame to continue to burn a bit longer.

Robert Becker