One no and three yes
Hashavuah, Chanukah 5747
The candle lighting ceremony is a type of declaration of the festival.
Not only is it a declaration of the start of the event, but rather it is more a conceptual declaration of the festival; the declaration as to what connects us to the festival and what is the contemporary meaning of this connection.
Frequently we say that the role of the festival is the confrontation of the individual with his divine values. That the role of the festival is to remind us or to reinforce those same norms that are acceptable in our everyday lives. Lighting the candles and the accompanying ceremony is the statement of those same norms.
Therefore, and because it is impossible to light candles that are a symbol without saying something, we attribute importance and significance to what will be said while lighting the candles. And if we attribute importance and significance, we cannot exempt ourselves by a meaningless compilation of sources, but rather we need to pay heed to the written word.
The miracles and the wonders are not part of our faith
We can choose the simple route and join in with the traditional blessing. This blessing has been customary for generations and we also use the same well known wording as one of the Chanukah songs that appears on the disks of songs of the festival. Between those who espouse this approach are also those who will claim that in this fashion we demonstrate partnership and unity with all the Jewish people.
There shall also be those who will claim that by adopting the traditional blessing this will save us the recurrent indecision as to what to read and what to say. That is we have supporting methods both culturally and practically.
However, if we attribute significance to the words on the festival, and in particular the declaration of the festival, then we must ask ourselves if the following declaration is acceptable to us: “....for the miracles and for the wonders, for the salvations and the wars that You have carried out for us and our fathers in those days at this time”.
Two points are difficult for us:
a) the miracles and the wonders are not part of our faith. In our opinion behind every “miracle” there are acts and there are doers.
b) “that You have carried out for us”, that is to say the salvations, that the acts came from the heavens and not by acts of man.
That is that the acts are carried out as predestination and not as an act of choice and realization of human beings. The significance of the blessing whereby the acting and instigating power is an external entity whereby we are tools with which He affords the wonders; that our wars and our aim toward the light is part of the action of miracles of that same divine power. One of our main problems of Chanukah rests within this point. As sons of a fulfilling Zionist society, who did not wait for divine grace and miracles, rather took its fate into its own hands, who carried out an act with its body, we cannot agree with the traditional declaration of the festival.
This is a fundamental contradiction to our views, and therefore use of such a declaration will cause a disconnection between the festival and the members. On the contrary, we would want to say that something has not happened to us as a result of a miracle, but rather as a result of an act; not as a result of faces looking to the heavens but rather as a result of taking a position.
We hewed the rock until we bled
I am starting, therefore, from the first conclusion - not the traditional blessing.
It appears to us, therefore, at least the ceremony of the general declaration as it says: “Here we are approaching to light the Chanukah candles, the lights that will light up our way, or they will constitute markers from the darkness to the light”. This declaration could be several lines from Judah Leib Gordon’s poem: “These Candles”:
“We are lighting these candles
Because they are signs for us to remember the past
And a good example for dependence and hope for the present”
In this way we have stated both the lighting and in those days at this time (and there are additional options.
Whatever the content of all the candles will be, it seems to us that three will be dedicated permanently to three issues:
The first to the Maccabees - the Hasmoneans. There are versions of lighting the candles in Kibbutzim that disregard the fact that this is the point of departure for the festival, that this is the point of connection to the festival, that without them we cannot have the symbolism of the festival (with all the changes that the meaning of values are undergoing such as heroism, fanaticism and so forth within the historical process).
We will dedicate one candle to a symbol that is perhaps more abstract however has accompanied man since the dawn of his existence - light overcoming darkness; the banishment of the dark from the light and the warmth; the surrender of the shadow of death from life. We must return year after year to the declaration “we have come to banish the darkness”.
We will dedicate one candle to our view not to wait for a supreme power to carry out miracles, but rather to take our fate into our hands and to carve the light by personal achievement. The most appropriate expression is in Zeev’s poem “We bear torches”:
“We bear torches
in dark nights
we light the paths under our feet
and anyone who has a heart
who is thirsty for the light -
shall give their hopes and their heart to us
to the light
and let him come!
We have not had a miracle
we have not found a jar of oil
we went to the valley
we ascended the mountain
the hidden springs of light
We have not had a miracle
we have not found a jar of oil
we hewed the rock until we bled -
and let there be light”!
If we open with the Maccabees’ candle with Bialik’s poem “To the Volunteers Among the People” which says amongst others:
“From the Neshef Mountains we shall hew a flame
from the crevices in rocks
we shall count to ten thousand”
And we shall conclude with Aharon Zeev who says:
“We hewed the rock until we bled - and let there be light!”
We understand the connection around the image of the tough, voluntary act, to achieve, that required in order to reach the light, is this not our Chanukah festival?