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You are here: about - Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message - 18 Dec 09/1 Tevet 5770

Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message

Erev Shabbat 7th day Chanukkah, Rosh Chodesh Tevet, 5770
18 December, 2009
Dear Community,
I’ve had the privilege of lighting Chanukkah candles in so many places this week. I’ve helped to light them at 10 Downing Street, together with rabbis from across the spectrum of the community. How fortunate we are, if we consider the long history of our people: which of our ancestors ever dreamed that we would celebrate this festival in the residence of a head of government? I lit the candles with students at SOAS; ‘It’s important for them to hold events like these in public’, said Professor Colin Shindler, ‘They experience so much intimidation’. We lit the candles with Muslim friends in the synagogue, then went to their community centre to learn about lights in Islam. We lit the lights at the chaplaincy in Great Ormond Street Hospital, where the flames burnt with the courage of all those children and the love of those who care for them. We lit many times in the synagogue, and late each night, when we’d all gathered home from our various activities, we lit the candles together at home.
I love the Chanukkah candles. We light them because of pirsuma de’nisa, to proclaim the miracle, teaches the Talmud. More and more, that miracle seems to me not just the triumph of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks when they reclaimed and rededicated the Temple in the 2nd century BCE. The miracle is a deeper vindication, within life itself and within the heart, that we persist in spite of everything with this endeavour to illumine our small flames. Notwithstanding loneliness, or fear, or dejection, or plain weariness, we testify that a light still burns within us, burns with a deep love of life, with respect for this simple wonder of breathing and existing, with joy in this companionship of living things.
And, especially when I can see the lights reflected in the window, and sometimes even the reflection of a reflection, it seems as if the flames are reaching across the generations. Intangible as a reflection always is, hovering unreachable in mid-distance, the lights kindled by my grandparents, and their parents, and theirs, appear to answer, and our lights belong to each other. Mine could never burn without theirs, yet mine is also their vindication. Thus we testify to that spiritual strength which binds us together across history, outshining all the darkness, hopelessness and cold.
And the lights seem to reach to God as well. They do so not so much by flaming up as by drawing down, down into the resources which cause them to burn, that hidden jar of pure oil they found in the Temple precincts, the inexhaustible reserves of purity and hope within the human spirit for ‘the soul is a candle of God’.
Shabbat Shalom and Good Chanukkah
Jonathan Wittenberg