The Story We Tell Our Children
The story we tell our children about Hanukkah
is found in the Talmud (Shabbat 21b).
There we are taught that when the Maccabees
fought their way into Jerusalem
and to the Holy Temple
they found the Temple defiled
even the menorah could not be fired up.
There was no purified oil for the menorah
only a single cruse of oil.
So they fired up that small amount of holy oil
and it lasted for eight days.
None of these sources, however,
mention kindling lights on Hanukkah.
The first mention of that comes in a later strata of the Talmud
called a baraita
which preserves the argument
between the House of Hillel
and the House of Shammai.
The House of Shammai lit eight candles on the first day
and decreased them each day. The House of Hillel claimed
that you only ascend in matters of holiness,
so they lit one candle on the first night
and one for each succeeding night.
As usual, the House of Hillel prevailed.
Thus the miracle story of Hanukkah,
the miracle of a small amount of oil
sustaining for eight days and nights,
the miracle of a few over the many,
the miracle of prevailing over arms
stronger than our own.
Now — sit down and tell me
how it feels for you.
What’s at stake here?
When do we fire up what we have
when we cannot imagine it is enough,
when do we ascend in holiness
when holiness is s0 remote
what’s the signficance of lights at all
purificiation of the defiled
is at stake.
With our lights the present is gazing into the past
in the past
surely they stared out of darkness
into the future.
The surprise miracle —
finding each other.