Most of us have heard the old adage that when two Jews get together they have three opinions between them. This joke, though self deprecating, speaks to a truth about our people, that hearing other’s opinions and wrestling with them is something of great value and can contribute to our enlightenment and well being. If two people only had their own opinions, perhaps they would have nothing, as a group, with which to contend, limiting them to their own beliefs. Having that third viewpoint expands the possibility of learning and growing. Whether one, two, or more opinions our convictions are strengthened when they have been tested by the beliefs of others.
One famous difference of opinion comes from Rabbis Hillel and Shammai and it concerns the lighting of the chanukiyah on Chanukah. Rabbi Shammai suggests that all eight candles are lit on the first night and then one less on each subsequent night. His reasoning is that on the first night there are eight days of Chanukah ahead of us so we should light all eight candles. On the second night there are only seven days ahead so we light seven candles, and so on. Rabbi Hillel teaches that we start with one candle on the first night and add one more candle each successive night. Of course we know who won the argument. Hillel’s ultimate point is that in matters of holiness we should increase the light not diminish it. This is not always an easy thing to do.
Bring on the Light – Words & Music by Danny Maseng
This time of year is joyous for those who celebrate festivals of light and enjoy shopping. For many, family gatherings and feasts, traditions old and new are triggers for experiencing the holiday spirit. For many it is the change in seasons that precipitates festive feelings. For others it is the familiar music that stirs up the emotions of the season.
Maoz Tzur – Sung by Jerry Weil
As we get closer to winter the light that we see in the sky becomes reduced. Like R. Shammai’s severe suggestion of decreasing the amount of light on each day of Chanukah, the winter sky too is diminished in its offering of light. For some, the reduced amount of sunshine brings on what is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or even cases of depression and loneliness. While the rest of the world may be basking in light there are those whose experience is nothing but darkness.
Yotzeir Or – Music by Jordan S Franzel
We may all know someone who is affected by mental illness. We may have a family member or friend who has had bouts with depression or other forms of illness and they may have been open about it. But many people who suffer from depressive disorders try to conceal it and we might not be aware that someone is hurting on the inside.
The menorah lighting argument of Rabbis Hillel and Shammai is in the context of another issue. The Rabbis pose the question of whether a chanukiyah should be relit if the light goes out prematurely. Regardless of an opinion that it need not be relit, as Jews it is our responsibility to bring light to the world and to drive out darkness in whatever form it comes. When someone’s inner illumination is dimmed, when they may be overwhelmed with darkness, it is our mission to be a light.
Banu choshech – Words by Sarah Levi Tanai
Music by Emanuel Amiran
Ba-nu choshech l’gareish
B’yadeinu or va-eish
Kol echad hu or katan
V’kulanu or eitan.
Surah choshech hal’ah sh’chor.
Surah mip’nei ha-or.
We come to chase the dark away. In our hands are light and fire. Each individual light is small. But together the light is mighty. Flee, darkness and night. Flee before the light.