Sooner or later, we discover that finding ways to cope with adversity is essential, if we are to experience a measure of happiness in the course of our lives. Adversity takes on an infinite number of forms. Sickness, financial insecurity, cultural attitudes that embrace hatred are all capable of delivering us huge challenges. Our everyday relationships can give us ample opportunity for stress and pain. On the other hand, they can give us the emotional and essential support with which we need to cope.
Another great resource in facing Life’s challenges is our potential to learn from experience, from other people, from the past and from books; all in the hopes of gaining wisdom. Modern technology has given us many tools attempting to ease our lives, and we see that the arts, in addressing our deep emotional places, thrive in adversity. Perhaps that’s precisely why they can lift our spirits in their non-verbal way.
Religious expression, through the study of sacred text, art, music, and architecture, acts of individual and community prayer, all combine to buoy our spirits as we face harsh reality.
Our festival of lights, Chanukah, comes as the daylight diminishes and the nights grow long – the classic expression of life and death and the ultimate expression of adversity. Its narrative of the band of Maccabees, opposing the might of the imperial forces of King Antiochus, reinforces the theme of facing impossible odds.
Despite the desperation of it all, light is brought into darkness. Dedication ultimately overcomes the might of empire. The miracle, expressed through that tiny jug of oil that was able to burn for eight nights, points to our own ability, through faith in the Divine Presence, to stare adversity in the face and successfully overcome it!
Today, so many of us face a level of adversity that few of us has ever experienced, whether economic, political, or through the current pandemic, which has cut at our basic social fabric. To share a thought that our Nursery School co-director, Lara Brown, expressed: “Our oil supply of energy – both physical and emotional – is very low. In calling to mind the events surrounding Chanukah through our celebration, we express our hopes for a similar miracle!”
At each onset of night, as we light the next candle, where there is darkness, let there be light! Where there is sickness, let there be healing! Where there is cause for sadness, let there be joy! In facing all this adversity, may we kindle all those hidden lights within us: the lights of courage, perseverance, compassion, mutual understanding… and love!
Our synagogue president, Carolyn Metz, together with our Board, joins me in wishing you much joy as you light up your menorah. Just as its light increases each day of the festival, so may your health, prosperity and happiness!
Rabbi, Congregation Beth Ami .