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A Word from Rabbi Schulman - 12/20/19

Did you know that there once was a debate about how many candles you should light each night of Chanukah? The Talmud records an argument between two famous rabbis - Hillel and Shammai. They disagreed about a lot of things, including whether you should add or subtract a candle each night of the festival.

Shammai believed that on the first night of Chanukah you should light eight candles, on the seventh night, seven candles, and so on. On the eighth night of Chanukah, you light only one candle. Shammai contended that you light a decreasing number of candles, in order to indicate the remaining days of the festival. Hillel saw it completely differently. He believed that each night of Chanukah you add a light to the menorah. In his perspective, you increase the number of candles each night in order to add holiness to the world.

Rabbi Michael Strassfeld writes in A Book of Life: Embracing Judaism as a Spiritual Practice, that there is credibility for Shammai's perspective. “The truth is that we live in a world of ever-diminishing expectations. The moment we are born we begin to die. Each day brings us closer to our last day. Yet for Hillel there is a deeper sense of truth at issue. The deeper issue is that our lives become ever richer and fuller with the passage of time, not increasingly diminished.”

Strassfeld continues,” the light of Chanukah reminds us of the potential that lies within each moment. The present can be filled with light and that light can increase no matter where we are in the span of our lives. Like life, light can pierce any darkness. It became the custom to follow Hillel's opinion that we light an additional light each night to make known the miracle of Chanukah; that is, our light can grow exceedingly bright beyond any reasonable expectations.”

Chanukah, which begins Sunday night, celebrates the miracle of light, of unreasonable expectations, of unquenchable hope. Each of us has the power to reflect the light of the Divine. We can be a beacon of hope and work for the triumph of good over evil, justice over tyranny, joy over sadness.

May the light of the Chanukah candles banish the darkness in our world. On each night of this festival may we increase holiness in our lives, in our community, and our nation. Let us rededicate ourselves to bringing forth the radiance of God's light.

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