There’s an old joke that all Jewish holidays celebrate a miraculous victory over an evil force that wanted to kill the Jews. This is, of course, not true for many (or most) Jewish holidays.
It seems to fit the bill on Chanukah, with one crucial difference.
The Chanukah Story
In the Chanukah story, the evil oppressor was the Greeks. But the Greeks did not set out to kill the Jewish people; their intent was to destroy Jewish culture and identity. To accomplish this, Antiochus, the Greek king, defiled the Holy Temple and banned Jewish observances. Many Jews assimilated into the Hellenistic culture, assisting the goal of eradicating Jewish identity.
Antiochus pushed too far when he demanded that the Jewish people worship statues of Zeus. They finally had enough and revolted, led by the Macabees.
The small army of Macabees miraculously defeated the powerful Greek army. Upon reclaiming the Temple, they cleaned up the mess and sought to rededicate it to restore its holiness. But they discovered that the Greeks had defiled the pure olive oil needed to light the Temple menorah.
The Macabees found one pure vial of oil hidden under the floor of Temple. It was enough to last for one day, but in another miracle, it lasted for eight days. On Chanukah we celebrate the miracle of the oil by lighting Chanukah candles for eight days.
Darkness = A Life Not True to Who You Are
The Chanukah story finds resonance today regardless of your religion. Many of us come of age in communities and cultures where people place expectations on us to be a certain way or pursue a certain path. In school we are told what to do to “succeed” — to get the grades that will land us in the right college or graduate school or in the right job. Teachers and parents lay out their expectations for what they see as our path.
Many people never question these expectations. In fact, they internalize — or assimilate — those expectations until they believe it’s what they want. You might go through most or all of your life feeling like something is off, never quite meeting your full potential, and not realize why.
This disconnection occurs when you are living a life that isn’t aligned with your values and your truth. You’ve lost your identity — your inner light.
At some point you may become aware of this, but still go along with it, the way the Jews acclimated to the Hellenistic culture. In that state, we lose our light.
When we are living a life that is not true to our values, in an identity that isn’t true to who we really are, we are living in darkness.
You must remember, even when you are living in darkness, that your light is hidden within.
The Light of Your Soul
The pure oil represents the light of our soul.
Like the oil that was hidden beneath the floor of the Temple, we often hide our light to protect it from being defiled.
The story of Chanukah teaches us that our light can’t be destroyed when we take a stand for our truth. Like the Macabees, we must first fight off those who wish us to be what we’re not. Only after taking a stand for the right to choose our own identity can we regain access to our light.
As in the miracle of Chanukah, we find that when we share our inner light, it miraculously grows beyond itself to light the world.