As we prepare to say goodbye to 2021 and reﬂect on the past year, I can’t help but focus on the challenges of the pandemic and lockdown, as well as the cautious optimism of reopening.
Despite all the pain and suffering we experienced over the past eighteen months, many of us ﬁnd ourselves still clinging to a general sense of hope and faith. Call it naive if you will, but I believe this outlook is woven into the fabric of the Jewish people. Throughout history, the Jewish people has witnessed one devastating catastrophe after another. From the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem to the Crusades, from the Spanish Inquisition to the pogroms, and ﬁnally the Holocaust – each of these events saw mind-numbingly high numbers of casualties and a threat to the Jewish future.
Yet despite the pain and sorrow resulting from these events, the Jewish people held onto their faith and maintained hope in a better future. And no holiday embodies this sense of hope and optimism more than Chanukah. The Talmud records a disagreement between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai over the proper way to light the Chanukah menorah: Beit Shammai says we should start with eight candles and remove one each day; Beit Hillel says we should start with one candle and add one more each day. As is almost always the case, Beit Hillel wins the argument, but their reasoning here is uniquely beautiful and powerful: Ma’alin BaKodesh VeEin Moridin – we only increase holiness, we never diminish it. Another way to look at Beit Hillel’s ruling is to say that at the darkest time of the year, we light more and more candles in order to drive out the darkness of pain and suffering with the light of hope and optimism.
Last year, we were not able to hold our annual Chanukah Bazaar due to the pandemic, but this year, we are cautiously reopening our doors. While I would understand if not all of you are ready to re-join us in person quite yet, the fact that we are allowing ourselves to return to some sense of normality shows that we are embracing the lesson of Chanukah and the story of the Jewish people: there may be times when we must hide in the dark, but a time will always come when we must embrace the light and help it grow.
Rabbi Gabriel Botnick