Hanukkah is traditionally considered a "minor" holiday: It doesn't have major theological significance; it doesn't have the weight of religious rituals; it is not rooted in the Bible. It has become a major "to-do" for the American Jewish scene – as we've developed such nice customs, music, foods, and have used this occasion to enhance our commitment to creating a sense of joyful community.
And maybe that's just it. The meaning of this festival – usually connoted as being about historic Jewish independence, Jewish pride, standing up for who we are facing overwhelming odds against us, and so on –is really the reminder to appreciate the little things, the subtle things, that most of us usually take for granted.
The small words of support and kindness, the moments of understanding, sympathy, and embrace – these are the real gifts of Hanukkah (or any season). All of us are exposed, I know, more often than we'd like, to episodes of lousy treatment by others, disrespect and disregard even from our supposedly closest friends and colleagues. So too are all of us prone to act in such disingenuous, careless, perhaps horrific and derogatory ways toward those around us - though we might profess the horror of these offenses.
Maybe the lesson of this Festival of Lights is that in order for us to each be a light of goodness and compassion in the world, first we must each lighten up, and remember that most of the issues that vex us are (as a friend calls them) "first-world problems," and mainly petty or insignificant after all. Once we recognize this very fact, perhaps we can stop blaming others for what annoys us, and learn to give thanks for all the good stuff we really have, and we really are.
Rabbi Eric J. Siroka is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth-El in South Bend, IN.
Originally posted at jazzrabbi