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In the Ghetto

by Tim O'Hearn

Day one in the ghetto. It doesn’t matter which ghetto; it could be Krakow, Warsaw, or Lodz. At evening candles begin appearing in windows. The authorities may not think anything unusual is happening, except a great waste of rare candles. The authorities probably don’t even know what day it is.

Day two in the ghetto. At evening two candles appear in the windows. Now the authorities are sure what is happening. It is cold and it is dark, but the candles are not for warmth and they are not for personal light. In fact, halacha says that you cannot use the light from these candles for personal use such as reading.

Day three in the ghetto. Because of security crackdowns there may be fewer windows with candles, but this time there are three lights in those windows that have them.

Days four, five, six, seven,and eight in the ghetto. The number of windows with candles may decrease, but the number of candles increases each day. After all, the holiday began as a result of defiance against cruel authority that was trying to destroy a race of people. The descendants of those same people carry on the tradition. Whether the oppressors call themselves Seleucids or Nazis, the lights represent resistance to oppression. The lights say I am who I am and I broadcast my belief in God regardless of what you do to me.

By now you realize that it was Hanukkah. The lights celebrate victory. Yes, for victory to happen some will die. But yes, there will be in every generation those who celebrate victory and defy oppression. There will be those who serve as an example to the sensitive among the oppressors. “I will also give you as a light to the nations, that you may be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” (Isa 49:6)

Many years ago a young rabbi taught a lesson about light. He may not have been thinking about Hanukkah. On the other hand, maybe he was talking about the requirement that the Hanukkah lights be placed in a window where those passing by can easily see them. He said, “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a peck measure, but on a candlestick; and it gives light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Mtt 5:15-16)

God expects his people to be seen. God expects his people to stand up for him. What would you think of a friend who deserted you in times of trouble? Would you not consider rejecting him as a friend? Would you not think twice about relying on him the next time?

When King Nahash was coming against Israel, the people cried to Samuel for a king. (1 Sam 12:12) They wanted a man to lead them in battle like the other nations. Rather than being a light to the nations, the people of Israel were looking to other nations for their light. What did God say to Samuel? “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” (1 Sam 8:7)

Surely there were some in the ghetto who said, “Why stir up trouble? We can celebrate in our hearts without drawing attention with candles.” All the martyrs, “from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple,” might say that running away is giving up the fight. If the lights are not in the window, the war is lost.

Hanukkah begins December 5, 2007.