This morning, a senseless tragedy occurred in an elementary school in Connecticut. Twenty children and six adults were murdered by a gunman with automatic weapons… kindergartners, teachers, counselors, even the gunman’s mother. This evening, we light candles for the seventh night of Chanukah, normally a cause for celebration.
The story of Chanukah, which means “dedication,” is one of victory, survival, and freedom, symbolized by the eight-branch menorah. The rabbis of the talmud discussed whether we should begin the first night of Chanukah with eight candles and light one fewer each night, or start with one and add one each night. The second idea prevailed, because the rabbis liked the idea of the light increasing rather than decreasing.
In a time of darkness, we can all appreciate more and more light. We need it, to lift our spirits and to give us hope. The Chanukah candles become warmer and brighter until, on the last night, the menorah is ablaze and we are happy. Tonight especially, we have to search hard for the light, and for the hope. The deaths of 26 innocents could, understandably, challenge our faith in mankind and question where God is in all of this.
What can we do?
As Jews, we can do what we always do. We can draw closer together and talk about our shock and grief as a community. We can honor the lives of the beloved the world has lost. We can work for change in policies that make tragedies like this more likely. We can create loving families who share values of peace, kindness, and justice. We can put our Torah at the center of all we do, for “all it’s ways are pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”
Can we celebrate Chanukah at the face of such tragedy? Jewish tradition commands us to be joyful, and hopeful. After the death of a parent or close relative, we are encouraged to grieve and also to live our lives. At a wedding, our joy is tempered by suffering elsewhere. Even at the Passover seder, while we recount our victory over Pharaoh, we remove 10 drops from our celebratory cup to remember the Egyptians who suffered under the plagues.
Life is complicated and it is hard. It includes tragedy and joy. This Shabbat, and this seventh night of Chanukah, may we find the good in life, pray for the families who are hurting, and work for tikkun olam, the repair of the world. May we rededicate ourselves to those things.