Congregation B'nai Israel

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By Spirit Alone

by Rabbi Evan Schultz, December 2017/Kislev-Tevet 5778

Not by might
not by power,
but by spirit alone, shall we all live in peace!

I think about these words written by the late Debbie Friedman as we approach the festival of Chanukah this year.  What is it exactly that we celebrate throughout these eight days of the Hebrew month of Kislev?  Louis D. Brandeis wrote a poignant piece that he delivered in Boston in 1912 that I think holds great relevance for us today.

“Hanukkah, the Feast of the Maccabees, celebrates a victory – not a military victory only, but a victory of the spirit over things material… the struggle of the Maccebees is of eternal world-wide interest.  It is a struggle of the Jews of today as well as of those of two thousand years ago… The Maccabees’ victory proved that the Jewish people – then already an old people – possess the secret of eternal youth:  the ability to rejuvenate itself through courage, hope, enthusiasm, devotion, and self-sacrifice of the people.”

One thing I hear often from congregants and friends these days is how the world can at times feel so bleak, there are so many challenges and issues, and so many feel the weight of it bearing down on them.  Many of us scroll through Facebook or Twitter, or spend hours watching cable news, the issues of the day affecting our moods, our motivation, and our energy.  The feelings are certainly real.

As Brandeis prompts us, let us on Chanukah remind ourselves what this festival is truly about:  the spirit of our people!  As we bring more light into the world on each night of Chanukah, we are prompted to not only recall the great miracle of the oil, and the military victory over the Assyrian Greeks, but too the great spirit that lifted the Maccabees to victory not only an enemy army, but the assimilation of many Jews into Greek culture, and those who had given up, convinced that the only course of action was to submit to the seemingly greater power.

May the light that we bring into the world each night rejuvenate us, give us the energy to let our spirit fully permeate the world around us.  May the light ignite something deep within us, a connection to the Maccabees that is not about military victory or vials of oil – but rather a profound ruach, or spirit, that enables us to not only be a light to the world but to see all of the light that does truly exist in the world around us.  By spirit alone shall we all live in peace; happy Chanukah!