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Hanukkah: Children's Issues

Rekindling the Lamp: Hanukkah and Children’s Issues

At the moment of rededication, the Maccabees relit the ner tamid, the eternal flame in the Temple. The ner tamid symbolizes God’s constant presence with the entire Jewish people. Because it is perpetually lit, the ner tamid also signifies a hope that God’s presence will continue to dwell with us from generation to generation (BT Shabbat 22b). What could be a better symbol for our hopes for a sustainable future than the ner tamid? Thus, as we kindle the Hanukkah lights, we think about how we can nurture our children and pass along a better world to them.

Hanukkah has become a children’s holiday. We have parties and play games, eat sweets and give gifts. Therefore, it is only natural that we consider children’s issues on Hanukkah. When we help all children gain the loving families, safe homes, health care and education they deserve, we help fulfill our mandate to nurture God’s creation in each generation. In addition, many other issues – including global climate change, environmental sustainability, economic justice, fair trade and poverty – affect children as well as adults. When we work for social justice in these areas, we also ensure the wellbeing of future generations.

Every Jew must light the ner tamid in his own heart, a light of God. It must not only be lit in Tabernacle or Tent, that is, in synagogue, house of study, or during prayer. But it must also be lit ‘outside the curtain’ (Exodus 27:21): in the street and market place, in one’s work, in profane activities, and in all matters regarding relations between one human being and another (Pardes Yosef, Itturei Ha Torah, vol. III, p. 229).

As we remember the ner tamid in the Temple, we also recall that each of us has a perpetual inner flame, a divine spark within. Like the Hanukkah lights, these flames are not to be kept hidden. Rather, we are to make manifest their brightness in our everyday actions – in our studies and on the street, in our prayers and in our homes, in our synagogues and in our communities. We can light these lamps by the work of our hands – from the clothing we collect for winter warm-up campaigns to the meals we cook for hungry mouths; by the words of our mouths – from the phone calls we make to our representatives to the stories we read to disadvantaged youth; and by the meditations of our hearts – as we ever strive towards the vision of a world redeemed.

In this labor, we work towards the messianic vision of the prophet Isaiah. The midrash Pesikta Rabbati makes a connection between the dedication of Hanukkah and the dedication of the world-to-come, “which also is to be celebrated with the light of lamps, as it is written, ‘And the light of the moon shall become like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall become sevenfold’ (Isaiah 30:26)” (Pesikta Rabbati 2:6, in The Hanukkah Anthology, pp.78-9).

Thus, as we kindle the Hanukkah lights, we think about how we can pass along a better world to our children. We think about how we can contribute to a world that can sustain us, our children and our children’s children. And we commit to working towards the repair of the world, for our day and for future generations.